Is Justice without Juries possible?
No, it is not, for three key reasons. At its essence, trial by Jury is unquestionably one of the quintessential cornerstones of fairness, transparency and legitimacy that upholds our modern criminal justice system and one whose necessity has recently has turned into a much debated topic with the suspension of jury trials in England and Wales with the coronavirus lockdown. The prevailing sentiment is that it is near impossible to do away with the jury system for, as some have said, to have a trial without jury would be to have a trial without justice.
The main argument for the abolishment of jury trials is that "Juries are biased" which calls to mind the wrongful conviction of Tom Robinson in "To kill a Mockingbird", attributed to the racist nature of the jurors. While Harper Lee may have been right in portraying Jury trials in 1930's America as not exactly being the epitome of unbiased justice, this logic is fundamentally flawed when applied in our current day and age for one simple reason. Juries no longer comprise of twelve individuals of the same race, upbringing and values, modern day Juries are actually more likely to cancel out bias because they now consist of twelve individuals, typically of diverse backgrounds, who have to come to a unanimous decision rather than relying solely on the Judge's whim. Statistically proven by the Lammy Review, juries were considered one of the exceptional "success stories" of the UK criminal justice system, there was remarkably no difference in the verdict of jury trials of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic defendants (BAME) in comparison to that of white defendants. Especially considering that jury trials are used significantly in serious criminal cases where a considerable amount of the time the defendant's life happens to be on the line, is it not better to have the collective wisdom of twelve additional people in deciding something as serious as whether an individual should retain his right to life? Juries are fair, effective and efficient to say the least. Much has changed with our society as well as the criminal justice system that now, the one way to protect groups typically discriminated from being subject to unfair biases is through the jury system.
The next most popular proponent is that Juries are simply incapable. After all, Judges undeniably do have to undergo extensive training and expertise to be able to reliably understand complex law. In comparison a jury might appear inadequately equipped to deal with such seemingly complex matters. We still require juries and for a simple reason, the defendant's right to a fair trial and judgement by a jury of his peer rather than a single individual considered to be above him and them is one of the cornerstones of most legal systems in this day and age. Perspectives play a large role in this, often, the accused person's views on whether or not they want a judge or a jury to hear their case stems from previous entanglements with the court system. Jury trials help the accused take the verdict better as they feel that they are treated more fairly. Accused persons who had previously been to court and perceived that they were treated unfairly when in front of a judge alone, will often insist on a jury trial, believing that they will get a better hearing in front of 12 ordinary people. The reverse is sometimes true but admittedly on much fewer occasions, an accused who feels he was wrongly convicted by a jury in the past may be more likely to ask for a “judge alone” trial. A good majority of the time however, accused persons generally prefer representatives of their community to pronounce judgment opposed to a judge.
A third claim is that "since Juries are not required to provide reasons for their decisions, this inadvertently harms the transparency and quality of the court system." However, Juries actually increase the legitimacy and transparency of the court and criminal justice system from the public perspective by actually including them in the trial process. That Juries are accountable to nobody, unlike Judges who are required to provide an explanation ensures this. This of course can lead to perverse verdicts (verdicts that appear contradictory to the evidence given in court) on occasion but this actually serves as much needed protection from perceived injustice or an over-reaching government. More important to note is that ultimately, Judges are still people and still have the potential to be consciously or subconsciously swayed by the personal and professional implications of the verdicts of controversial cases in their care in addition to being targets of intimidation. Moreover, especially when their individual conviction rates do not measure up in comparison to other courts, there is always the pressure ‘improve’ their rates, which could have disastrous consequences for innocent defendants who otherwise would have gotten justifiably far lighter sentences.
For these and other reasons too numerous to expound on, a criminal justice system without its cornerstone of trial by jury would be nothing more than impracticable in nature. To quote Jefferson, "trial by Jury [is] the only anchor ever yet imagined by man, by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution." To remove jury trials would be to remove the possibility of justice.