Jury Trial Reform: Verdicts, Reasons and the Rule of Law

AuthorCillian Bracken
(2019) 18 COLR 116
Jury Trial Reform: Verdicts, Reasons and the Rule of Law
Cillian Bracken
Dear Editor,
In the days following the verdict of the much-publicised Jackson/Olding rape trial, it was
revealed that a juror had made comments online explaining the jurys decision.
Though the
comments were swiftly removed, they threw a spotlight on something closely guarded and
sacrosanct in the criminal justice system - the reasons for a verdict. The extensive media
reporting of the trial has brought unprecedented scrutiny to the intricacies and anachronisms of
jury trials on the island of Ireland. It has also raised legitimate questions about the functioning
of both rape trials and juries generally, many of which have been discussed in considerable
detail elsewhere.
This letter, however, will seek to argue that due to their failure to give reasons
for their decisions, juries are fundamentally contrary to the rule of law.
The modern criminal jury, that 12 ordinary citizens convene to render an impartial finding of
fact, has its origins in ancient England, stretching back hundreds of years.
In Ireland, the role
of the jury is constitutionally enshrined under Article 38.5, which provides that no person shall
be tried on any criminal charge without a jury, save for summary and special charges. The role
of the jury is also regulated by the Juries Act 1976 and the common law.
At the conclusion of
the judge’s charge, the jury will retire to consider the evidence, deliberate in secret and render
a verdict.
A jury cannot be questioned subsequently or reveal how they reached this verdict.
The primary motivation for this is that it would end the finality of a jury verdict undermining
the legal certainty of the decision and so as to preserve public confidence.
The necessity to
Conor Gallagher and Amanda Ferguson, ‘Belfast Rape Trial Juror’s Online Comments Referred to AG’ The Irish
Times (Dublin, 30 March 2018).
See Jack Farrell, ‘Vixens, Sirens and Whore: The Persistence of Stereotypes in Sexual Offence Law’ (2017)
20(1) Trinity College Law Review 30; Bryan O’Su llivan, ‘Protection against Cross-Examination by the Accused
in Sexual Offence Trials’ (2015) 25(3) International Criminal Law and Justice 54; Ivana Bacik, Catherine Maunsell
and Susan Gogan, The Legal Process and Victims of Rape (The Dublin Rape Crisis Centre 1998).
Robert Van Moschzisker, ‘The Historic Origin of Tr ial by Jury’ (1921) 70(1) University of Pennsylvania Law
Review 1.
See Murphy v Ireland & ors [2014] 1 ILRM 457 [15].
Dermot Walsh, Criminal Procedure (2nd edn, Round Hall 2016) [22-01].
Law Reform Commission, Consultation Paper on Contempt of Court (LRC, Dublin 1991) 363.
ibid 363-367.

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