I am a long-term member of the Jury Charge committee of my state bar in the United States, a committee that writes the legal instructions to the jury in civil cases, and was thus very pleased to observe the closing arguments and the Judge’s summing up to the jury in the recent trial of Cooper v Evening Standard and Associated Newspapers, a civil jury trial that arose from a newspaper article that incorrectly reported that Mr. Cooper was a ringleader who organised the Millbank riots in November 2011.
Afterward, news coverage and commentary of the trial reflected not only was it the first civil jury in the past three years but that proposed the present Defamation Bill is set to effectively abolish the right to a jury trial in libel and slander cases.
With respect, may I suggest that it would be change for the worse to eliminate this most valued feature of democratic government? While we cousins from across the pond tend to export some of our worst products, such as fast food, Desperate Housewives, and shock and awe, we also learn from our best imports, of which your historic right to a jury has become our core value.
Over my years of being a trial lawyer in civil cases throughout the United States, each judge has informed the juries that one of the most important functions any government may provide its citizens is a respected way to resolve serious disputes that arise in ordinary course, that is to say, a justice system. The jury system is the only governmental function in which ordinary citizens and subjects play a vital role in the running of the country’s affairs, to decide what the facts are in those disputes. It is not left to bureaucrats, to specialists, or even to judges, but to twelve ordinary citizens or subjects who, in my experience, devote themselves fully to the resolution of one problem – the case. I may say that over my forty years as a courtroom lawyer, jurors who often arrive somewhat unhappily at being pulled from their daily lives invariably complete their service with a sense of great pride in having been called upon to devote their life’s experiences to the sifting of evidence and the weighing of the court’s instructions to do what is right, without influence from political parties, fear of future elections, or other pressures. It is usually the only case they will ever hear.
Finally, in our experience, those who wish to do away with civil juries often are those who believe such radical change will make it easier for them to avoid responsibility for the conduct that has brought them into court – juries call them to account, and rightly so.
Jack W. London is an American trial lawyer from Austin, Texas, who has argued cases throughout the United States, and a novelist.