The right to be tried by a jury of one's peers is a vital protection against the
abuse of power. It dates back to the Magna Carta of 1215 (even though at the
time the principle benefited only men of a certain standing). Whereas judges are
paid by the state, a jury of 12 randomly chosen members of the public is
independent and democratic, bringing the moral common sense of ordinary people
into the courtroom.
That's particularly important where cases involve a political dimension, such as
when people have taken action in opposition to the government or to powerful,
corporate interests; even more so when people are now being imprisoned for up to
3 years for peaceful acts of resistance (more than the starting point sentence
for a serious sexual assault).
Why is the right to trial by jury under threat?
In recent years, juries, when they have been allowed to hear all the relevant
evidence, have been siding with those taking action to expose government
dishonesty and corporate greed.
Among others, in April 2021 a jury acquitted 6 of 'the Shell7'. In January 2022
a jury acquitted 'the Colston 4', who toppled a statue of the slave trader
Edward Colston into Bristol Harbour. In November 2022 a jury acquitted members
of Palestine Action for targeting the arms manufacturer Elbit, which makes
drones used to kill Palestinians. In January 2023 a jury acquitted Insulate
Britain campaigners after an M4 roadblock. In February 2023 a jury acquitted
Burning Pink campaigners, who had splashed pink paint over Conservative, Labour
and Green Party HQs. In June 23 a jury acquitted 'the Brook House 3', who
disrupted deportations to Jamaica, after the defendants argued that it was their
'duty to resist violent and racist government policies'.
These acquittals have enraged the government, corporate interests and the right
wing press, leading to a series of measures to disempower juries, reducing their
role to that of rubber stamping the directions of the judge.
How did the Defend Our Juries campaign begin?
The campaign originated with the action of Trudi Warner, a 68 year-old retired
social worker and legal observer. Trudi was moved by the silencing and
repression she had witnessed in court to hold up a sign outside Inner London
A judge there had been banning defendants from explaining their motivations to
the jury and sending people to prison just for using the words 'climate change'
and 'fuel poverty' in court. Trudi's sign set out the principle that juries have
a right to acquit a defendant as a matter of conscience, even if a judge directs
them that the defendant has no legal defence.
Was Trudi Warner's sign a neutral statement of the law?
Yes, her sign was a correct and neutral statement of the law, based on legal
advice. Jurors do have the right to acquit a defendant, irrespective of any
directions the judge gives.
The right was first established in 1670 when the Recorder of London tried to
compel a jury to convict two Quaker preachers, William Penn and William Mead,
for holding an unlawful assembly. Chief Justice Vaughan, of the Court of Common
Pleas, held the Recorder's approach to be unlawful. He ruled that juries have
the right to "give their verdict according to their convictions". That ruling is
celebrated with a marble plaque in the Old Bailey. The principle is taught to
our children in schools and explained in a film on the Supreme Court's website.
Why did the sign only refer to acquittal? Wasn't that encouraging the jury to
No. Although the original 1670 case refers to 'decisions', there's in fact no
corresponding right of a jury to convict a defendant. If a judge considers that
the prosecution has failed to make out their case, the judge rules that there is
'no case to answer'. When that happens, the judge directs the jury to enter a
'not guilty' verdict. The jury has no right to ignore such a direction.
Setting out the principle that a jury has a right to acquit on their conscience
is not an encouragement to acquit. It is a simple and neutral statement of the
law. It empowers jurors to act on their conscience. It prevents them from being
pressured by the judge into giving a verdict against their conscience (as
appeared to happen when a jury, following the directions of a judge at Inner
London Crown Court, returned a verdict of guilty 'with regret').
-- Cont'd (with links) at https://defendourjuries.org/faqs/