To understand the need of jury in India we should first be cognizant of what exactly a jury is. A jury is a group of people who have been summoned and sworn to decide on the facts in question during a trial. The jury is made up of people from various parts of the community.
During a trial, the jury listens to the evidence, decides what facts the evidence establishes, and draws inferences from those facts to form the basis of their conclusion. In criminal cases, the jury decides whether a defendant is "guilty" or "not guilty," and in civil cases, the jury decides whether a defendant is "liable" or "not liable."
Now on reading this one might be ambiguous on the exact role of a judge as the jury gets to decide whether the defendant is guilty or liable in a said criminal or civil proceeding. So, when cases are tried before a jury, the judge still plays a significant role in determining which evidence the jury may consider and admit. The jury is the fact-finder and investigates the ascertained facts provided, but it is only allowed to find facts from evidence that is legally admissible. The judge instructs the jury on the legal principles and rules that must be adhered to when weighing the facts of the case. If the jury finds the accused guilty or liable, the final judgement is still in the judge's hands i.e. even if the jury in a said case considers the defendant to be guilty, the judge may overturn the jury's opinion and pronounce the defendant not guilty provided the judge has sufficient reason in doing so. In a criminal case, this action by a judge is referred to as a judgement of acquittal and in civil cases, a judgement notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV). Generally instances in which the judge overrules the jury’s verdict are rare but yet possible as the judge is finally the ultimate decision maker.
The jury is made up of 12 members of the general public who sit in a box to one side of the judge. Before the case begins, the members of the jury choose one of the jurors to serve as the jury foreman. He or she serves as the jury's informal chairperson and spokesperson.
The 12 jurors in a case are chosen from among those who have been summoned to serve on the jury that day. Each district court draws names at random from a list of registered voters and drivers licence holders in that district. The people chosen at random fill out a questionnaire and go through a screening process to see if they are qualified to serve on a jury.
Now let's take a look into the countries that follow the system of jury trials. The first jury trial occurred in 1665, when Ms Ascentia Dawes was charged with the murder of an Indian slave girl. She was found guilty of the crime by a jury of six Englishmen and six Portuguese people, but she was acquitted due to the mentality of the crime. Other countries subsequently adopted the jury system.
The countries that still follow a jury system include Great Britain, the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and more than 40 other nations.
A little known fact about the Indian judiciary is that it had also adopted the system of jury and jury trials were also conducted in India until 1973 and it basically replaced the Panchayat raj system which was prevailing in India in order to bring a more reasonable form of a justice system, hence it is more of a western innovation or idea which was introduced in India and later removed from the judiciary system. The Nanavati Case, also known as KM Nanavati vs State of Maharashtra (AIR 1962 SC 605), is widely regarded as one of the most significant cases in Indian legal history. This case also officially ends jury trials in India. However, the Nanavati case was not the last to be heard by a jury. The last jury trial in India occurred in Kolkata, West Bengal, during the election season, when two communist activists, Prakhar Chandra De and Rabindranath Chandra De, were charged with the murder of Dipak Sarkar in 1967. Thus, the final jury trial occurred in 1973, when Prakash and Rabindranath were retired at the Calcutta High Court Sessions.
A special jury of 'highly qualified individuals' was formed. Both defendants were charged with murder, acid attacks, inciting riots, and other offences. A total of forty-four witnesses, including five eyewitnesses, were heard. By reaching a unanimous verdict, the jury determined that the defendants were not guilty. Respecting the jury, the judge followed their decision and released them.
So why did the jury system get removed from the Indian judiciary? This system was abolished for a variety of reasons, which may be divided into three major parts.;
The people of the jury are not professionals i.e. they are not advocates or judges or anyone who could interpret the laws as a professional, hence there was always room for emotional or biassed opinions which could lead to the total misuse of the law.
The people of the jury are citizens who could potentially be threatened or bribed by the latter parties in order to pass a false judgement.
As these citizens do not know the depth of law, they might tend to use public pressure or public opinion to arrive at a conclusion.
This does not come to say that having a jury system has only disadvantages, it of course has its fair share of advantages otherwise it would be imprudent for various countries to follow this system in their judiciary. Let's take a look into the advantages of having a jury system in a judiciary;
This system helps involve the community in arriving at a judgement and does not give absolute power to the advocates and judges in a said case.
It is proved that the accuracy rate of the jury is quite high and was recorded to be 99.97% in the United States of America till date.
It helps the common citizens who are not in the field of law to gain a good depth of legal knowledge in the process of being a member of the jury.
Therefore, we can infer that regardless of the presence of a jury in the court proceedings, the judiciary is not perfect as both have their fair share of advantages and disadvantages. But although imperfect I feel that a judiciary system without the presence of a jury is far superior than a judiciary system which involves the verdict of the jury. As far as I'm concerned the jury is a group of citizens who have no knowledge about the field of law provided that they aren't legal professionals, and have no other choice than to use their emotions and experience in arriving at a conclusion rather than using laws, the probability of contrasting judgements will be off the charts with the involvement of a jury and the chances of arriving at a biassed and shallow conclusion is highly likely. There is a reason why the people in the legal field spend years and years studying and interpreting the law and these citizens who are just chosen with a few screening processes have no right in providing a legal opinion in a court proceeding. Sure, they can provide their opinions about the case but legal opinions which are considered highly appropriate to the case? No, they are highly unqualified to do so. Hence my take is that the jury system should not be implemented in the Indian judiciary.
As a result, regardless of the presence of a jury in court proceedings, we can conclude that the judiciary is not perfect, as both have their fair share of advantages and disadvantages. However, while imperfect, I believe that a judiciary system without the presence of a jury is far superior to a judiciary system that involves the jury's verdict. As far as I'm concerned, the jury is a group of citizens who have no knowledge of the field of law because they aren't legal professionals, and have no choice but to use their emotions and experience in arriving at a conclusion rather than using laws; the likelihood of contrasting judgements is off the charts when a jury is involved and the probability of reaching a biassed and shallow conclusion is high. There is a reason why people in the legal profession spend years and years studying and interpreting the law, and these citizens who are chosen through a few screening processes have no right to provide legal advice in a court proceeding. Sure, they can give their opinions on the case, but legal opinions that are highly relevant to the case? No, they are completely unqualified. As a result, in my opinion, the jury system should not be implemented in the Indian judiciary.
This article is written by John George of Symbiosis Law School, Nagpur.