Doubt dismissed: Race, Juries and Wrongful Conviction

Doubt dismissed: Race, Juries and Wrongful conviction

The report by Appeal considers the implications of majority verdicts for defendants and raises concerns that majority verdicts lead to more wrongful convictions. It also stresses the importance of a representative jury and argues that majority verdicts are incompatible with the standard of proof. 

Details 

The new report by Appeal is the second phase of this research project and expands on their earlier research  findings which were  published in January 2024.“Majority verdicts in England and Wales: A vestige of White Supremacy?” confirmed that there was very little evidence to support the narrative that majority verdicts were introduced due to widespread jury nobbling. Instead, there was evidence to suggest that majority verdicts were seen by some members of Parliament as the ‘solution’ to jury diversity. 

Whilst ‘Doubt dismissed: Race, Juries and Wrongful Conviction’ also highlights the previous findings and the significant events affecting race relations in the United Kingdom between 1948 and1979, it primarily focuses on the implications of the introduction of majority verdicts on defendants. 

Through interviews with people who have experienced miscarriages of justice and Michael Zander KC, the report highlights that having a jury that is representative, both in terms of class and race, is of fundamental importance to the perceived fairness in the verdict. There was also a consensus amongst those interviewed that majority verdicts appear to be a dilution of the standard of proof and give the prosecution a second chance to get a conviction. The report raises concerns that majority verdicts lead to more wrongful convictions and highlights 57 cases where defendants have incorrectly been convicted by majority and subsequently had their convictions quashed. 

The report also highlights the repeated refusal of the Courts to investigate jury deliberations where there have been allegations of juror impartiality, or misconduct, due to the principle of jury confidentiality, even where jurors themselves have raised concerns about racism and prejudice in the decision making process. 

Appeal makes the following recommendations: 

  1. Reinstate the principle of jury unanimity for criminal convictions. 
  2. Amend s.8 of the Contempt of Court Act to allow for research with juries in real cases. 
  3. Improve Crown Court data collection on majority verdicts and juries. 
  4. Implement CCRC and Court of Appeal, Criminal Division Routine Capture of the verdict type. 

Commentary 

In 1956, Lord Devlin observed that trial by jury is more than just an instrument of justice and more than one wheel of the constitution; “it is the lamp that shows that freedom lives”. Juries undoubtedly play a fundamental role in our criminal justice system however, there have been repeated calls for s.8 of the Contempt of Court Act to be amended to allow for research into how juries reach their verdicts, all of which have been dismissed. The Courts have previously confirmed that a defendant has no right to a racially representative jury, however, this report highlights just how important it is from a natural justice perspective. It is concerning just how many cases have been quashed following a conviction by a majority verdict and it will be interesting to see whether further research will demonstrate a clear link between majority verdicts and miscarriages of justice. 

Written by Sabrina Neves, Solicitor at GT Stewart Solicitors