Vicky Pryce jurors – were they stupid or just confused?

Feb 21, 2013

Is it time to impose IQ tests for jurors? Or did the 'hapless 12' do their civic duty? The jury is out

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IN THE WORDS of trial judge Mr Justice Sweeney, the 12 jurors in the Vicky Pryce case showed a "fundamental deficit in understanding". He dismissed them yesterday following 14 hours of deliberation after they had asked a series of questions, including whether or not they were allowed to come to a verdict based on evidence not presented in court and whether they could speculate on Pryce's state of mind.

To which, of course, the answers were No.

Sweeney said he had never come across anything like Pryce's jury during 30 years of criminal trials, while prosecuting QC Andrew Edis claimed: "This is not jury misconduct, this is not irregularity, this is a jury which has not, it appears, understood its function".

For BBC legal correspondent Clive Coleman, it was a "highly unusual day in court" and serves as a reminder that "there can be a real deficit in language and understanding between judges and lawyers, and the jurors they address".

The Daily Mail's Melanie Phillips says the case has exposed a " breathtaking level of ignorance and stupidity". She questions if it is time to impose IQ tests for jurors in order to preserve the English justice system.

"Of course, one jury that just didn't have a clue does not spell the end of a trial system that has helped define English justice and society for hundreds of years," Phillips writes. "But it's a pretty stark hint that something is going terribly awry, not merely with the justice system but with the society that it serves".

Stefan Stern, writing in The Guardian, defends the "hapless 12". The PR consultant, who has just finished jury duty himself, said most of the questions asked – including "what is the definition of reasonable doubt" - seemed sensible. For Stern, the jurors performed their "civic duty admirably". He invited those mocking them to try jury duty sometime, adding: "It's no laughing matter."

A new jury will now be tasked with judging whether Pryce is guilty of perverting the course of justice at the re-trial starting on Monday. Pryce cites "marital coercion" saying that she took her then husband Chris Huhne's speeding points under pressure. The prosecution says is not the sort of person to be pressured into doing anything against her will. Rather, she has been "manipulative" and "out to nail" Huhne because of his affair with another woman.


1. You have defined the defence of marital coercion and also explained what does not fall within the definition by way of examples. Please expand upon the definition, specifically "was will overborne". Provide examples of what may fall within the defence, and does this defence require violence or physical threats?

Mr Justice Sweeney said: "The words are relatively straightforward English words which the law does not permit me to go beyond further than I have by way of clear illustration in these directions."

2. In the scenario where the defendant may be guilty but there is not enough evidence provided by the prosecution at the material time of when she signed [the penalty notice letter] to feel sure beyond reasonable doubt, what should the verdict be: not guilty or unable/unsafe to provide a verdict?

No recorded answer

3. If there is debatable evidence supporting the prosecution's case, can inferences be drawn to arrive at a verdict? If so, inferences/speculation on the full evidence or only where you have directed us to do so, eg circumstantial evidence, lies, failure by Vicky Pryce to mention facts to the police.

 "The drawing of inferences is a permissible process, speculation is not."

"You must not speculate and you could not draw safe inferences from debatable evidence because you need to be sure that your inference, you reasonable common sense conclusion, is correct.

"In this case, the evidence on which the prosecution relies is largely undisputed."

4. Can you define what is reasonable doubt?

"A reasonable doubt is a doubt which is reasonable. These are ordinary English words that the law doesn't allow me to help you with beyond the written directions that I have already given."

5. Can a juror come to a verdict based on a reason that was not presented in court and has no facts or evidence to support it either from the prosecution or defence?

"The answer to that question is firmly no. That is because it would be completely contrary to the directions I have given you for anyone to return a verdict except a true verdict according to the evidence."

6. Can we infer anything from the fact that the defence did not bring witnesses from the time of the offence such as au pair, neighbours?

7. Does the defendant have an obligation to present a defence?

"There is no burden on the defendant to prove her innocence. On the contrary, there is no burden on the defendant to prove anything at all."

"You must not as I have now emphasised many times, speculate about what other witnesses will have not been called might have said or draw any inferences from their absence."

8. Can we speculate about the events at the time that Vicky Pryce signed the form, or what was in her mind at that time?

"The answer to that is an equally firm no. There's a difference between speculation, which is not permitted, and inferences."

9. Your honour, the jury are considering the facts provided but have continued to ask the questions raised by the police. Given the case has come to court without answers to the police's questions, please advise on which facts in the bundle the jury shall consider to determine a not guilty or guilty verdict.

"You decide the case on the evidence. That means it is for you to review all of the evidence and decide which of it you consider to be important, truthful and reliable, and then decide what conclusions, common sense conclusions, you can safely draw by way of inference from that evidence."

10. Would religious conviction be a good enough reason for a wife feeling that she had no choice, ie she promised to obey her husband in her wedding vows and he had ordered her to do something and she felt she had to obey?

"This is not, with respect, a question about this case at all. Ms Pryce does not say that any such reasoning formed any part of her decision to do what she did and the answer to this question will therefore not help you in any way whatsoever to reach a true verdict in this case.

"I must direct you firmly to focus on the real issues in this case and thereby to reach a true verdict according to the evidence."

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Of the 12 jury members 10 were black or Asian . The trial was halted repeatedly in order that jury members were able to pray . One more victory for PC , happening , vibrant , and enriching multi culture . One more nail in the coffin of Britain and its native people .

Funny how that is *NOT* mentioned in the article.

<confused> What does colour have to do with religion?</confused>

Because of my job, I observe a lot of trials, and I was , astonished by this. While it wouldn't have surprised me if the jury had needed further guidance on -- for example -- the reverse burden of proof that the defence of marital coercion imposes (it is complex -- the BBC got it wrong, for example, in their report) this stuff about speculation and so on is explained in the simplest possible terms as part of the standard directions the judge will have given them.

What I suspect may have happened, rather than the jury as a whole misunderstanding the directions, is that there may have been one particularly strong-willed (or stubborn) individual who fancied him or herself as an amateur detective, and the questions were an attempt to reinforce to this individual that the jury weren't supposed to down that particular garden path. But by that point, at least three of the jury may have found themselves fatally confused.

I don't know, but that seems to me rather more likely than the whole jury being baffled by some pretty simple directions that most juries seem to have no difficulty following at all..

A judge that says a burglar is brave for a committing the crime, a single white woman gets beaten up by a gang of Muslim women who get let off because the judge says they were not used to alcohol in their "society" and now a jury with the apparent IQ of a dead trout. May which ever god your believe in have mercy on the failing British legal system.

Stephan G's comments are quite likely the correct analysis of what happened at this trial. As a former Court Reporter, I agree with him.

As most of them seem to have been (not pure descendants of Britain....shall we say) these are people from totally different backgrounds and cultures. Just think in a few more years you won't be able to find an English speaking person in London......

It is called 'chickens coming home to roost', dear lady.Too late, much too late to complain, the die is already cast. The Britain you and your antecedents knew is gone FOREVER! You are just going to have to deal with it. To cheer you up, just think about your grandchildren and how much worse it would be for them!