The Rights of Jurors
When you sit on a jury, you have the Right and Duty to find the Verdict according to your judgment on whether the law is Just.
The British Justice System was once revered at home and respected abroad as embodying the finest and most democratic form of law enforcement ever devise by mankind. This historic worldwide example and reputation derived from One single phenomenon: it was the direct result of Constitutional Law, Magna Carta, The Great Charter of English Liberties, first passed in 1215. By Act of Union, Magna Carta is law throughout Britain, and has been ratified over thirty times, including by our current monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, and applies as much today as ever. This unique law institutes the Juror’s Right, and indeed Duty, in Trial by Jury, to acquit as innocent according to the Juror’s conscience, all citizens tried under laws which the Juror judges to be bad, oppressive or unfair.
That is to say, the Juror decides the Verdict not simply on whether the facts and evidence indicate the Defendant broke the law. In addition, the Juror has the Right and Duty to decide the Verdict by also making a judgment on whether the law under which the Defendant is being tried, is itself just. This is the special virtue of Magna Carta: it is emplaced to protect Citizens for all time, from tyrannical injustice by government.
A shining example was set for the world by the correct form of Trial by Jury which incorporates the Right of a Juror to judge on the justice of the law. Other nations, such as the United States of America, even when independent, adopted this form of Trial by Jury. In this context, lawyer John Adams, when Second President, pronounced about the Juror: “It is not only his Right but his Duty to find the verdict according to his own best understanding, judgment and conscience, though in direct opposition to the direction of the court” (Source: Yale Law Journal).
The Principle involved is well explained as follows: “If a juror accepts as the law that which the judge states then that juror has accepted the exercise of absolute authority of a government employee and has surrendered a power and a right that was once the citizen’s safeguard of liberty”. Elliot’s Debates; 94, Bancroft, History of the Constitution, 267.
In this matter, also consider Thomas Jefferson, Fonder of the Democratic Party, and Third President of the United States: “I consider Trial by Jury as the only anchor yet imagined by man, by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution”.
According to Samuel Chase, US Supreme Court Chief Justice, 1796, a signatory toe the Declaration of Independence: “The Jury has the Right to determine both the law and facts”. In this manner good men and women who stand up against tyranny are of one mind.
More recently, according to Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes: “The Jury has the power to bring a verdict in the teeth of both law and fact”.
And Judge Harlan F.Stone, Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, 1941-1946: “The law itself is on trial quite as much as the case which is to be decided”.
Why is the Juror’s judgment on the law so important a part of Trial by Jury?
The following are quotations from the Report of the FCDA, Europe; Cannabis, the Facts, Human Rights and the Law. ISBN: 0-954421-1-6. The Report is endorsed by honest Citizens, judges, doctors (of Medicine, Jurisprudence, Psychiatry, etc), Ecology and Economics’ experts, and other academics.
“In the governance of men and women, few if any , matters are of greater consequence than the diligence and precision with which the judiciary observe and adhere to the civilised code long established for the determination of an accused person’s guilt or innocence. At least the equal of all other aspects of importance of this code is the Right and Duty of the jury to judge of the justice of the law.”
“All governments, comprised of as they are of human beings, are fallible. Governments are capable of passing bad or oppressive (i.e. illegal) laws, and authorising and organising the enforcement of such bad laws. If juries were limited in their role to decide guilt or innocence only on the evidence produced by the state prosecutor of whether the accused had broken a law or not, any jury acting in this restricted way would not be able to protect good fellow Citizens from unjust laws or oppressions of the state. These inadequate ‘show trials’ are observed to take place in the tyrannies of totalitarian dictatorships and are traditionally scorned for the mockery of justice that they are when compared to the democratic high standards Trial by Jury”.
“Some term other than Trial by Jury is necessary to describe a court ritual enacted where in the jury is not informed of the jurors Right and Duty to judge on the justice of law, without which real Trial by Jury cannot be said to have taken place”.
Today, as a Citizen serving on a jury, it is unlikely that the judge of the law. Instead, expect the judge to tell you that you may consider only the facts and evidence of whether the Defendant broke the law. The judge might even tell you that you may not allow your opinion of the law, your conscience, or the Defendant’s motives, to affect your decision. This is categorically and precisely incorrect according to the Substantive Laws, including Magna Carta, which comprise the British constitution. No government or court may legally deny, revoke or legislate away the Right of the Jury to find a verdict by making judgment upon the justice of the law. The jury’s power to reject bad law continues to be recognised, as for example, in 1972 when the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals rules that: the jury has an “unreviewable and irreversible power to acquit in disregard of the instruction on the law given by trial judge. The pages of history shine upon instances of the jury’s exercise of its prerogative to disregard instructions of the judge.”
When Citizens are entrusted to undertake the extremely responsible role of serving on a jury, why does the judge not inform them of their full Rights and Duty to judge of the justice of the law? One can only speculate why … – Disrespect for the ordinary citizen’s ability to make fair judgments? – the judge is the willing servant of undemocratic and oppressive government? – unwillingness to part with his power? – ignorance of juror’s rights? (Indeed, some judges do not even know about the Rights of jurors to decide on the justice of the law.)
Whatever the judge’s motives, the judge is wrong not to inform the jurors of their full Rights and Duty to do justice. See for example, in the State of Georgia vs. Brailsford, a supreme court forfeiture trail, U.S. Chief Justice John Jay instructed the jury that the relevant facts having been ascertained, it remained only for the jury to judge upon the law itself, as follows: “The jury has the right to judge both the law as well as the fact in controversy.”
Nota Bene: One of the single most telling causes leading to the Repeal of Prohibition of Alcohol in the U.S. in 1933, was that the state prosecution of individuals for breaking the Prohibition increasingly failed to obtain guilty verdicts. Juries nullified prosecution of what they deemed to be an unjust law, pronouncing their verdict Not Guilty. In the last four years of Prohibition of Alcohol, approximately half of all such trials resulted in acquittal or hung juries although the defendants invariably had broken the law, often being apprehended red-handed.
Significantly, today in the U.S., jurors are increasingly often acquitting under the Cannabis Prohibition laws.
In Britain, 1670, the Chief Justice Vaughan reaffirmed this long-standing Right of jurors to give their verdict according to their convictions and their conscience.
Although Penn and Mead had clearly broken the law in both letter and spirit, the jury’s right to acquit if the law is unjust, supercedes in authority the Crown, the state and the court. Chief Justice Vaughan in reviewing the case re-confirmed the Right of Juries to judge of the justice of laws, upholding this Principle as one of the essential safeguards of Democracy, which applies for all time, as witnessed by the Old Bailey Commemorative Plaque, see below.
Jurors; consider Chief Justice Harlan F. Stone again; “If the jurors feels that the statute (law) involved in any criminal offence is unfair, all that it infringes upon the defendant’s natural God-given unalienable or Constitutional Rights, then it is his duty to affirm that the offending statute is really no law at all and that the violation of it is no crime at all – for no-one is found to obey an unjust law”.
Near this site William Penn and William Mead were tried in 1670 for preaching to an unlawful assembly in Gracechurch Street.
This tablet commemorates the courage and endurance of the jury, Thomas Vere, Edward Bushell and ten others, who refused to give a verdict against them although they were locked up without food for two nights and were fined for their final verdict of Not Guilty.
The case of these jury men was reviewed on a writ of Habeas Corpus and Chief Justice Vaughan delivered the opinion of the court which established the Rights of Juries to give their Verdict according to their conviction.
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