Juries have had their day

Jury trials are slow, expensive and don't necessarily produce the 'right' verdict -- so why do we still use them?

Our legal system – note I do not call it our justice system – deserves to come in for criticism. Not everything is bad, but there are elements that need to be reformed.

Basic things don’t look right to me – for starters, it costs way too much and is way too slow. But there is more.

One rule is that juries cannot be told of previous convictions. This negates the history. The idea of being tried before twelve good and true of ones peers began its development way back in Anglo-Saxon times. There was little point in rules restricting jury knowledge of the accused past as the members of the jury came from the community itself and would have known the accused’s background anyway. They would be far more likely to know whether this was completely out of character or just the sort of thing that this accused person would do.

One can’t help but feel that in the modern world with classical theatrical performances by thespian defence attorneys and juries that have no native idea of the character they are judging, juries are just too easy to manipulate.

The Scott Guy case is another one of those cases that had a verdict that looked correct legally but just does not seem to be “right” if true justice is our guiding light. Everyone but no-one that I have spoken to tells me that they are convinced enough that the case was not proven ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ but also that the charged accused certainly did not look or feel ‘not guilty’ to them. Learning of Ewen Macdonald’s nasty murky past after the event just confirmed earlier suspicions.

The case that really took the cake was the O J Simpson trial in America. Subsequently in a civil trial he lost, but it was too late. He had got off not guilty – I really wonder how many people believe that.

I don’t think the jury system serves us well anymore.

We had the potential for another high drama show trial with Oscar Pistorius, but fortunately South Africa abolished trial-by-jury in 1969, over concerns black people would never get a fair trial. They are not the only ones who use the inquisitorial judge-only trial system. Most of continental Europe, Africa, South America and Asia, use that system in preference to juries. Good on them.