The Jury's Out

Date01 June 2013
Published date01 June 2013
The Jury’s Out
David Kirk*
Chief Criminal Counsel, Enforcement and Financial Crime, Financial Conduct
As I write this Opinion the jury is out in the Vicky Pryce case, for the
second time. The f‌irst jury at Southwark Crown Court failed to agree,
after a f‌ive-day trial and three days of deliberations, whether Ms Pryce
had taken speeding points for her partner, Chris Huhne, giving rise to
much hand-wringing about the jury system. Will the second jury fare
any better? We shall soon know—and, of course, by the time you read
this, the case will no longer be ‘breaking news’, and headlines in all the
national press,1but will be consigned to the archive of history—yet
another case in which a slightly odd and unexplained thing happened in
the relative privacy of the jury retiring room.
There has been much debate about the suitability of juries to try
complex fraud cases, and a provision still sits, unused, in s. 43 of the
Criminal Justice Act 2003 to permit the prosecution to apply for a trial
without a jury in fraud trials. To bring this provision into force an
aff‌irmative resolution in both Houses is needed, and so far the Upper
Chamber has shown a reluctance to aff‌irm. I wrote about this in late
2005,2and the debate has not moved on signif‌icantly in the intervening
eight years.
‘Ordinary’ trials are another matter, and no one has seriously sug-
gested abolishing jury trial. The Pryce case, however, has caused some
alarm bells to ring—if the members of a jury cannot reach a verdict in
what by any standards is a simple case, and if they can demonstrate by
their questions such a total ignorance of the fundamentals of the jury
system, what hope is there? Do we need to make changes?
The answer is almost certainly ‘No’. There will always be perverse
verdicts and hung juries, but most professionals closely involved with
juries would stoutly proclaim the continuing health and importance of
this long-standing feature of the constitutional landscape. However,
while there is no burning legal issue at the core of the jury system which
needs to be addressed, there are some straws in the wind, which the f‌irst
Pryce trial stirred up, and which may merit inspection. I would list these
as: (a) too much information, Googling and transparency; (b) a dimin-
ishing respect for the institutions of the state; and (c) a lack of cultural
awareness of the workings of the jury system. When I addressed the f‌irst
* The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily
ref‌lect the views of the Financial Conduct Authority or the Journal of Criminal Law.
1 On 21 February 2013 the main front page headline of The Times was: ‘Pryce trial
collapses amid doubt over jury’.
2 D. Kirk, ‘Fraud Trials: A Brave New World’ (2005) 69 JCL 511. And see also the
Opinion article in the same issue of this journal: J. Morton, ‘Jury Service: Life
Enhancing? No. Worthwhile? Yes’ (2005) 69 JCL 449.
173The Journal of Criminal Law (2013) 77 JCL 173–176

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