Clive Coleman discusses The Jury on BBC Radio 4’s Front Row

Our Senior Partner Clive Coleman yesterday appeared on BBC Radio 4’s Front Row, discussing the Channel 4 show ‘The Jury: Murder Trial’.

Credit: Channel 4

The four-part series uses a verbatim transcript of a real murder trial in which a man admits killing his wife by strangling her and then bludgeoning her with a hammer.  His partial defence to murder is ‘loss of control’ which, if believed, would result in a conviction for manslaughter and a far shorter sentence than the mandatory life sentence for murder.  All names are changed but the evidence is precisely that which was heard by the real jury.

The novelty of this series is that the case is heard by not one jury, but two.  Neither jury know of the existence of the other until after verdicts have been given.  The programme takes viewers into the jury rooms and allows them to follow the deliberations of both juries – something that the law strictly forbids in relation to real juries.  It is billed as a social experiment that goes to the heart of our criminal justice system. While much of the drama turns on whether both juries will reach the same verdict, the real interest is in watching the dynamics of two juries of ordinary citizens assessing the evidence in the same case and coming to a verdict.

Speaking with host Samira Ahmed and the show’s co-creator Ed Kellie, Clive referenced Lord Devlin’s famous quote that jury trial is “the lamp that shows that freedom lives,” but said that anyone who has been involved in the criminal courts knows that “that lamp is not always shining brightly or in the right direction”.

He explained that “criminologists are of the view that up to 25% of verdicts in jury trials are wrong.”

Clive described how the show “both restores your faith in the jury system, because they take it incredibly seriously, but it also shakes your faith in the jury system because jurors apply all sorts of criteria they probably shouldn’t, bringing in their personal experience.

“It’s almost impossible to ask people to put their personal experience aside while deliberating and this programme showed that juries find that very difficult to do.”

Clive observed that “some people favour Coroners’ Court style narrative verdicts, so you then get a sense of how the jury have worked through the problem and that would perhaps inspire more confidence than simply a verdict of guilty or not guilty.

“We can’t go along believing that jury trial is a jewel of fairness and this is a perfect system – it clearly isn’t – and a programme like this brings out all of the issues around this.”

Click here to listen to Clive’s appearance in full.