The jury is an ancient legal institution. Historically, juries were used in a variety of contexts. Juries once performed a range of functions in the administrative and judicial sphere.
At common law, there was a broad distinction between a jury summons to inquire and make a presentment and juries of issue and assessment. The latter type of jury is that most commonly encountered in modern times.
The grand jury was the precursor of local authorities and undertook administrative functions making presentments under legislation for various purposes. If the jurors agreed they make a presentment in writing signed by each member and the presiding officer.
The grand jury returned accused persons for trial, as the initial stage of the more serious criminal offences, where there was sufficient evidence to so warrant. may be empanelled in civil, criminal and coroner’s courts.
Juries are encountered most commonly in criminal proceedings. There is a constitutional trial to a jury for most non-minor offences. They are also found in coroner’s courts and in a limited category of civil cases.
Prior to reforms in the late 1980s, there were juries in most civil cases including the ubiquitous negligence action for personal injury. 1988 legislation has curtailed significantly, the role of juries in civil cases.
They remain available only in defamation cases, assault, battery false imprisonment. Some medical clinical claims involve a technical battery, so that a jury trial may be available
Nature of Juries
A jury is a body of persons drawn from the community which is convened in accordance with law in order to represent the public in the context of proceeding. They are obliged under oath or affirmation to perform their duties. At common law, a jury comprises 12 persons, and this largely remains the position. This has been varied by some statutes or by varied by consent in non-criminal cases.
The primary function of a jury in the context of legal proceedings is to determine the facts either by inquiry or most commonly, on production of evidence at trial. In criminal and civil cases, they are charges with making findings of fact based on the evidence presented.
The judge directs the jury in relation to issues of law that are relevant to the matters in issue. The jury’s verdict or award is their ultimate finding determination in the matter based on their finding of facts and applying where applicable the law as directed by the judge.
Summons & Oath
Historically, the sheriff summoned the jury. The sheriff’s immediate successor in many contexts, the County Registrar summons juries in Circuit Court case. In practice most juries are found in the Circuit Criminal Court, which hears most serious criminal offences. Jurors are summoned by the service of a jury summons. The summons may be served in person or more usually by registered post.
By custom the oath is administered to the foreman first. The other members of the jury are then sworn to observe the oath he has taken. Theey must hear the evidence brought before them and determine the matter on this basis.
Members of Jury
Where a person is charged on indictment a jury is sworn to try the issue. Upon the panel of jurors being assembled, there is right of challenge individual jurors. There are two types of challenge.
Prospective jurors may be challenged for favour or bias or suspected favour or bias. A certain number of peremptory challenges (no reason need be stated) are permitted.
Prospective jurors may be challenged on the basis they do not have the requisite capacity to serve on a jury. They may be challenged on the basis they have committed a crime which renders them unsuitable to serve. They may be challenged on the basis of rational or suspected bias.
The judge determines the challenge. The prospective juror who has been challenged may (but need not) be examined on oath as to the matter is concerned. Matters which tended to show bias maybe elicited. Upon conclusion of any challenges, the remmaining jurors are sworn in.
Control of Juries
In criminal cases, there is discretion as to whether to allow the jury to separate or not. Separating after summing up by the judge, should not generally be permitted. They may be allowed at any time before giving their verdict, the use of reasonable refreshment at the court’s expense.
If a jury behaves improperly, such as by separating without leave, communicating with other persons, receiving evidence out of court or determined their verdict improperly they may be discharged and new a trial ordered.
In the trial of any matter civil or criminal a jury may be withdrawn by consent of the parties. The court may in its discretion discharge the jury at any time before the verdict. The jury ought not be discharged for the purpose of procuring further evidence which has not been brought forward at the trial.
In criminal cases communications between the jury after retirement and the judge, should be read out in court. The judge has a discretion if it is not one who reflects the merits of the case In a civil case the communication should be read in open court, or if it is undesirable, should be seen by counsel or litigant in person.
If the jury indicate that it wishes to make a decision without hearing all the evidence, the judge may in his discretion discharge them, I he does not, he must direct them to hear whole of the case,
A juror should not decide mattes on the basis of his personal knowledge of facts. He must declare personal knowledge or interest in is oath. A juror may however, have regard to his general knowledge.
Juries may render special or general verdicts in civil and criminal matters. General verdicts in criminal cases are one of guilty or not guilty,. In civil cases, they are declarations as to the party for which the jury finds with the amount of damages.
Special verdicts are findings of particular facts upon which the courts must give judgment according to law or in criminal cases direct the jury to return a general verdict wanted by the special facts. Special verdicts are not an obligation, but a privilege of juries. If they do not or refuse to find a special verdict or accept the direction of the judge as to what the general verdict based on it should be, it appears that the general verdict must stand.
The verdict of the jury must be given in an open court in the presence of all of them. The general principle is that it must be unanimous, save where statute otherwise allow. In civil cases it may be taken by majority by consents.
A judge may advise as to the desirability of the unanimous verdict. He may not pressure the jurors in order to give up their independent opinion and judgement.
Once the jury has given its verdict in a civil case, it cannot be recalled to rectify it. There must be a new trial. A judge must decline to hear reasons upon which the verdict is based and should not request them.
Statements and affidavits made by juries in relation to their deliberations and their intentions not admissible.
Affidavits of jurors or bystanders as to what happened in an open court on bringing of a verdict or the circumstances in which they went into the box or their capacity may be heard.
Interfering with Juries
It is contempt of court to threaten or use threatening or abusive language to a juror. It may be dealt with the court as contempt of court, it is a misdemeanour for a juror to impersonate another. It is a misdemeanour to determine a matter by lot
It is misdemeanour to corrupt or influence a jury in their determination.