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Presenting Cases in Criminal Jury Trials

NZ $25.00
Author(s): Tim Brewer, Professor Warren Young
Published: 22 November, 1999
Pages: 31


Despite the fact that the jury is now used in less than one percent of all criminal cases, it is still commonly regarded as the cornerstone of the criminal justice system. It is also an institution which has commonly prompted strong and polarised views. While this has fostered a considerable literature on the jury, remarkably little effort has been expended in finding out how juries actually work and whether they really do serve the functions or suffer from the failings which supporters and opponents of the institution allege. Equally, although law reform bodies have frequently discussed the right to trial by jury, little consideration has been given to ways of improving the jury trial process itself.

Traditionally, the scope of jury research has been limited by legal restrictions which have meant that researchers have not been able to observe jury deliberations at first hand and have been greatly restricted in what they can ask jurors afterwards. As a result, although there is a considerable body of overseas research literature, it has had severe limitations. There is a small amount of research which has been able to tap the attitudes and behaviour of actual jurors, but it has principally been confined to the United States, and its applicability to New Zealand is open to question. The legal culture, the politics of criminal trials, the attitudes and behaviour of judges and counsel, and the procedural rules all differ so significantly that comparisons between the two jurisdictions are fraught with difficulty.

Because of this paucity of information about the functioning of juries, judges and counsel (whose task it has been to communicate with juries and to determine the framework within which the law and the facts are presented to them) have operated in something of a vacuum and have thus been forced to rely upon anecdotal information and unproven assumptions.

This paper provides a summary of the findings of a recent project which has attempted to address this gap in the literature by conducting empirical research on jury decision-making in New Zealand. The seminar is designed to identify, and to provide a forum for the discussion of, the implications of the research for prosecution and defence practice in jury trials. More specifically, it will consider:

  • the extent to which jurors are adequately prepared for their role (including the impact of Crown and defence opening addresses in this respect);
  • jurors’ reactions to the trial process and the presentation of evidence (including alternative strategies for the presentation of evidence);
  • the extent to which jurors felt that they were participants in the trial process;
  • jurors’ assessments of the performance of counsel, and the impact of those assessments upon the outcome of the case;
  • effective and ineffective strategies for communicating with and persuading juries.


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