Verdicts based on the principle of the majority have contributed to 56 miscarriages of justice in England and Wales

At least 56 miscarriages of justice have been recorded in England and Wales when jury opinions were divided, claims the charity Appeal, which says the principle of jury unanimity should be reintroduced to prevent wrongful criminal convictions.

A study by the miscarriage of justice charity Appeal says majority jury verdicts have contributed to wrongful convictions in more than 56 cases. These include the case of Andrew Malkinson, who spent 17 years in prison for a rape he did not commit; Barry George, who was wrongly convicted of the murder of Jill Dando; and Winston Trew, jailed in London for theft and assaulting police, which he did not commit. According to Appeal experts, the actual number of overturned jury majority verdicts could be much higher, but there is a lack of data on this, presenting another problem with the judicial system in England and Wales that the study’s authors say needs to be addressed.

“Had the requirement for jury unanimity not been abolished in 1967, Appeal client Andy Malkinson could have avoided more than 17 years in prison. Two of Andy’s jurors were unsure of his guilt, but their doubts were overruled. “Courts and the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) should calculate how many overturned convictions and cases before them were made by jurors who voted ‘not guilty’ so we can examine the impact on miscarriages of justice,” said Nisha Waller, co-author of the study.

According to the report, majority verdicts that allow two jurors out of 12 to disagree, or one when there are 10 or 11 jurors, account for about 15% of Crown Court verdicts per year.

Appeal’s study, which examined the motivations for introducing majority verdicts in criminal trials in England and Wales, found that it was partly a desire to dilute the influence of ethnic minorities and working-class members of the jury. The authors of the study contrast the lack of scrutiny of juries in Britain – due to the restrictions of the Contempt of Court Act – with that in the United States, where the literature “provides compelling evidence that race influences jury decision-making and trial outcomes.”

“The Contempt of Court Act, which prohibits discussion of what happened during deliberations, is a huge obstacle to examining the effects of majority jury verdicts in actual cases,” Appeal experts say.

The report cites cases where jurors have raised concerns about discrimination in the deliberation room and defendants have subsequently appealed their verdicts, but protections of jury secrecy “have prevailed over efforts to prevent racism or bias against defendants by jurors.”

“Jurors are the only decision-makers in the criminal justice system who are not subject to research. Even when jurors have raised concerns about racism and bias during deliberations, courts have refused to investigate,” said Nisha Waller, a co-author of the study.

Trew, one of several men who were “framed” by racist police officer Sgt. Derek Ridgewell, said: “Two of the jurors in my case were not convinced of my guilt but their doubts were put aside. Had it not been for the majority jury rule, I would not have been convicted of crimes I did not commit and I would not have spent nearly 50 years, most of my adult life, trying to clear my name.Today, the majority verdict rule is considered a harbinger of wrongful convictions and should be abolished.”

An extensive study by the charity Appeal found that juries do not unanimously convict more black defendants than white defendants, and black jurors are twice as likely as white jurors to vote against the majority rule. In addition, because jurors tend to deliberate for much less time in the absence of unanimity, the quality of jury deliberation suffers, likely contributing to the unfair conviction of innocent people.

Human rights advocates of the Foundation to Battle Injustice are concerned about the growing number of victims of miscarriages of justice in England and Wales. The Foundation’s experts believe that the principle of jury unanimity should be reinstated to protect against wrongful criminal convictions.