Reforms to the jury system

It is important to note that reforms refer to proposed modifications to the jury system, whereas alternatives refer to suggestions of how to replace the jury system entirely.

Train jurors

An implemented reform is the publication of the Victorian Law Foundation Jurors Handbook. It is an information booklet outlining the function and role of the jury. Furthermore, there are suggestions that the courts could provide the jury with another information booklet, which summarises case facts, evidence, and the relevant law.

Such a reform would better equip jurors for the job they need to do. However, it would be a costly reform.

Specialist foreperson

The court could employ a foreperson to represent the jury, guide discussion during deliberation and act as the group’s spokesperson.

This foreperson could ensure that, throughout the deliberation process, jurors were well informed on court procedure, and rules of evidence and law. Yet, jurors may rely too heavily on the foreperson, meaning that the jury may no longer represent broad community views.

Reduce exemptions

By reducing exemptions and ineligibility, a jury could be a true representative of a cross section of society. However, limiting these exemptions may mean that unsuitable or biased jurors may be chosen.

Reasons for decisions

If juries gave reasons for their decisions, they would be less likely to agree on a verdict hastily or on dubious grounds. This would instil confidence in the jury system, and give the court an indication of how well jurors understand the law and evidence. However, this may be confusing to the court as jurors may come to the same decision for different reasons.

‘Not proven’ verdict

The jury could hand down a ‘not proven’ verdict, stating that there is insufficient evidence to convict. The defendant would be released, but could be retried if further evidence is found. This reform would reduce the incidence of jurors agreeing because they felt compelled to reach a verdict.

However, this may result in an unjust outcome for the defendant, as he or she would never be totally free of criminal charges.

See also:

Alternatives to the jury system