Friday 19 April 2024

Do juries have an absolute right to acquit a defendant?

Updated Monday 22 April 2024

Do jurors in criminal cases actually have a right to decide a case against the weight of the evidence or, as it is often phrased, "according to conscience" or "jury equity"?

Historically, Bushel's Case (1670) 124 ER 1006  has been thought to have decided that they may


Each juror either swears or affirms an oath to 'faithfully try the defendant and give a true verdict according to the evidence."

Claiming to be protecting the public interest in the administration of justice, the Attorney-General is seeking to bring contempt of court proceedings against Trudi Warner because, outside a Crown Court venue, she held the sign shown above. The Attorney argues

that Warner should be prosecuted in order to maintain public confidence in the independence of the jury system.

It appears that the sign was not directed at any specific jury or jurors. In criminal cases, trial by jury is key and, for that reason, the case raises an issue of constitutional importance. Should it be left to the judiciary to decide on the rights of jurors or should it be a matter for Parliament? The latter seems to be a preferable of settling any question in this area.

There was a hearing in the High Court on Thursday 18 April 2024 - Prosecution of woman for climate trial sign not in public interest, court told | UK news | The Guardian

The judge - Mr Justice Saini - will give his decision on Monday as to whether the case will proceed to a full trial.

Trudi Warner reveals the dark secret of English courts: juries do have the right to follow their consciences | Richard Vogler | The Guardian

Mr Justice Pushpinder Saini was called to the Bar in 1991 (Gray’s Inn) and took silk in 2008. He was appointed a Deputy High Court Judge in 2017 and a High Court Judge in 2019.


Criminal Courts Review - Contents - pdf version ( Report of September 2001.

This report (by Lord Justice Auld) recommended - ' that the law should be declared, by statute if need be, that juries have no right to acquit defendants in defiance of the law or in disregard of the evidence, and that judges and advocates should conduct criminal cases accordingly.'

See the discussion in Auld's report at Chapter 5 paragraphs 99 to 108. At para 105, Auld wrote -

' ... I regard the ability of jurors to acquit, and it also follows, convict in defiance of the law and in disregard of their oaths, as more than illogicality. It is a blatant affront to the legal process and the main purpose of the criminal justice system - the control of crime - of which they are so important a part ...'

and further

'...  They are not there to substitute their view of the propriety of the law for that of Parliament or its enforcement for that of its appointed Executive, still less on what may be irrational, secret and unchallengeable grounds ...'

19 April 2024

Update 22 April 2024

Mr Justice Saini dismissed the application - HM Solicitor General -v- Warner - Courts and Tribunals Judiciary

On "jury equity" see paragraphs 13 to 21 of Saini J's judgment.

Also, at para 42 - "Overall, in my judgment, the claim is based on a mischaracterisation of what Ms Warner did that morning and a failure to recognise that what her Placard said outside the Court reflects essentially what is regularly read on the Old Bailey plaque by jurors, and what our highest courts recognise as part of our constitutional landscape."


Judge throws out case against UK climate activist who held sign on jurors’ rights | UK criminal justice | The Guardian

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