Some people might think that the collapse of Vicky Pryce’s trial the other week brought the country’s judicial system into disrepute. I disagree. Yes, it seems odd that a group of 12 people, despite specific direction from the Judge on a number of matters (including the meaning of “reasonable” in terms of “reasonable doubt”) were unable to come to a verdict, and as a consequence a retrial was ordered.
I prefer to see this as British justice working in precisely the way it was intended. Twelve ordinary people sat in judgement on the defendant. They could not reach a verdict. You might say that was because they were not suitable to hear the trial in the first place. An alternative view may be that they were taking their responsibilities wholly appropriately and if there was a deficiency it was either in the way that they were directed by the Judge, or the evidence put before them by the prosecution.
Trial by jury isn’t perfect and it can from time to time result in some odd decisions, but where the miscarriages of justice have come, they have not come from the jury room (the Birmingham Six, the Bridgewater Four and the Guildford Four can testify to that), and I would think that I prefer the odd Vicky Pryce moment, even if there are costs wasted as a result, or even the odd acquittal of a guilty person, if it means that the integrity of the jury system remains.