Judge or Jury? What Will Best Suit India?

Posted on June 21, 2010 in Specials

Rohan Gupta:

A fact which is constantly losing its significance from national consciousness, if it has not lost it already, is that India, until 1950, much like the USA and the UK, also had a jury system which was abolished by the then national government led by PM Jawaharlal Nehru after the case of Nanavati vs. State of Maharashtra 1959, on the grounds that the opinion of the Jury can be easily influenced by the media and popular perception hence making the jury system unreliable for proper jurisprudence.

Presently the jury system exists in most countries with a Common Law legal system with some exceptions like India, which has a common law or case law system but has done away the jury system. A common law system is basically one in which the law is also developed by the decisions given by courts and tribunals. It means that any decision given by a court (of competent authority) has to be treated as a precedent for all cases of a similar nature arising in the future, hence giving the courts the authority to establish legal norms rather than simply following the ones established by the legislative authority of the country, which in India’s case is the Parliament. The idea is that since a common law system allows subjectivity if the courts are to be included in establishing laws, it is only in such a system that a jury can be allowed.

Now while both a judge and jury are expected to sit in a trial and deliver a verdict regarding the guilt or innocence of the accused, there are various differences between the two systems. While in the case of a judge, there is, usually, one single person who has legal education and vast experience in the field, either as a judge or a lawyer, who delivers both the verdict (guilty/not-guilty) and the sentence (if guilty), in a jury system a group of 9 to 15 people are randomly selected, more often than not from voter registration lists, and are required to have no legal background and hail from various professions like medicine, engineering, etc. The role of the jury is restricted to pronouncing the verdict, while the presiding judge delivers the sentence.

Before cases, usually a lot of people are called to serve as the jury (jury duty), out of which a certain number (9 to 15), are selected to serve as the actual jury for the case after thorough cross examination by either the 2 lawyers or by the presiding judge. In most countries, however, the process in legal terms, known as voir dire, is executed by the two lawyers in order to maintain fairness. It basically allows the lawyers to eliminate people who may have a strong bias or prejudice regarding the accused, the nature of crime or the punishment given for the crime.

There are various other aspects of a jury system, including the extent of the powers given to a jury and whether a jury is better than a judge to deliver ‘justice’. While countries in which the system has existed for ages accept it to be a common practice, in other countries it has been seen as ‘amateur justice’, as once described by a Pakistani judge.