And so it was that I considered the doubt that exists in juries and magistrates` benches. I can recollect sitting on the wing at a DV trial with the Bench Chairman of a joining amalgamating bench in the chair. We were split as to the defendant`s guilt. The chairman made his pronouncement which ended, “and we find the case proved beyond reasonable doubt”. Can a split bench truly justify such a verdict? Logic suggests otherwise.
Juries in Scotland differ from those south of the border in three major respects:-
1. There are three possible decisions; guilty, not guilty or not proven
2. There is an odd number of jurors…..15
3. A simple majority verdict carries the day
In England under the Juries Act 1974, a majority verdict (10 out of 12) is permitted in some circumstances. A bench of magistrates seems to be empowered with the worst of both worlds. A majority of 2:1 is not exactly overwhelming considering the “jurors” are well versed and trained in structured decision making with regard to an assessment of the facts agreed or in dispute. That majority decision cannot logically or sensibly indicate guilt beyond reasonable doubt if a third of the bench holds such doubt.
Currently no indication is given in open magistrates` court if a decision is split. English law could be aligned with that of the Scots and “Not Proven” be offered as an alternative to “Not Guilty”. Or if that were too radical surely justice would be best served if a split guilty finding led automatically to an appeal before a Judge and two Justices of the Peace at Crown Court? But on thinking about it, it is a near certaintity that this new government [or any other] would not consider justice has a priority over costs.