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Juries - role of the jury
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Role of the jury

The jury is the sole arbiter of fact (what happened), not the law, that is the function of the judge.

Crown Court

  • Try criminal cases on indictment.

  • They are the sole judges of fact but play no part in sentencing in the event of a conviction.

High Court

Juries are sometimes seen in the High Court to hear defamation cases.  Some defamation cases go ahead without juries if the judge so rules, for example if there are masses of papers to be read.

 

The jury determines the facts (i.e. whether or not the defendant is liable) and also decides the amount of damages to be awarded.

 

They may be used in cases involving fraud or malicious prosecution, or when the civil action is based on a disputed allegation of criminal conduct.

Civil jury trials

 

When is a jury trial ordered?

 

County Courts Act 1984, section 66 for false imprisonment or malicious prosecution.

Similar provision in Supreme Court Act 1981, section 69.

There are three categories of proceedings:

  1. Section 66 specifies certain proceedings where the trial shall always be without a jury.

  2.  In all other county court proceedings, trial shall be without a jury unless the court otherwise orders on application. Under CPR, application must be made for a jury trial within 28 days of filing defence.

  3.  Statutory presumption in favour of jury trial in certain circumstances unless the court is of the opinion that the trial requires any prolonged examination of any documents or accounts, or any scientific or local investigation which cannot conveniently be made with a jury.

The cases where there is a prima facie entitlement to a jury are where the court is satisfied that there is in issue:

  • a charge of fraud against the party making the application; or

  • a claim in respect of libel, slander, malicious prosecution or false imprisonment; or

  • any question or issue of a kind prescribed for the purposes of this paragraph.

There is a discretion to allow jury trial in other actions but a general reluctance to do so. See Racz v Home Office [1994] where the House of Lords refused to extend by analogy to misfeasance in public office, which since this case is no longer an action tried by jury. (JSB Guidance)

County Court

They are occasionally used in the County Court for actions against the State, for example where someone is suing the police (malicious prosecution or false imprisonment and perhaps battery).

In civil cases the jury consists of 8 jurors

Section 67 of the County Courts Act 1984 provides for a jury of eight, this means there can be a majority verdict of seven and the parties can even agree to take a lesser majority verdict.

Coroner's Court

A coroners' hearing is usually referred to as an "inquest", which is held where someone;

  • has died a violent or an unnatural death;

  • has died a sudden death of which the cause is unknown; or

  • has died in prison or in such a place or in such circumstances as to require an inquest under any other Act (Sec 8 Coroners Act 1988)

The function of an inquest (with or without a jury) is to discover two facts

  1. who the deceased was; and

  2. how, when and where the deceased came by his death.

There can be any number of jurors between 7 and 11.

 

Under the Sec 8 Coroners Act 1988 a jury will only sit with a coroner in four circumstances.

Where the death appears:

  • to have occurred in prison, or

  • to have occurred in police custody or where death followed an injury caused by the police, or

  • the death is required to be reported by law to be to a government department or to the HSE, or

  • to have occurred in circumstances prejudicial to public health or safety.

The coroner may also sit with a jury in other cases if it appears to him that there is reason to do so.

 

In circumstances other than the above the coroner sits alone.

 

Further information about coroners at King's College here

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