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Restoring Faith in The Judiciary: A Closer Look at the Jury Trials

Ananya Shamshery [1]

 

Abstract

“Trial by jury is the palladium of our liberties. I do not know what a palladium is, but I am sure, it is a good thing!” - Mark Twain


With the world currently locked in a battle with COVID-19, the ideals of justice themselves seem at stake. It does not help that in these tumultuous times, the responsibility of the judiciary has changed, with common people no longer able to trust their insight. Could the jury system as practised in common law jurisdictions help change the perspective of people about the judiciary? Could the trial by jury be a possible solution to bring in a trustworthy atmosphere in the judicial processes? The blog shall look into the various aspects of the jury being one of the viable solutions which might help restore faith in the judiciary in the current times.


Introduction

Jury trials are a system of representation in the judiciary in various common law jurisdictions such as in the USA. A jury is a group of 12 jurors who look into the case without any specific legal knowledge but take part in discussions and deliberations. This system provides a viewpoint of a general class of people regarding a particular case. There are various demerits of jury trials but this blog shall take into account the merits and the representative aspect of jury trials to add on to the current judicial system in India. The demerits associated with this system are what have played a major role in abolishing the jury system.


What is a Jury Trial?

Jury Trial-A trial of a lawsuit or criminal prosecution in which the case is presented to a jury and the factual questions and the final judgment is determined by the jury. The jury is a group of common people randomly selected, who focus on the discussion and deliberation of the matter at hand to come to a decision. It distinguishes this from a ‘court trial’ in which the judge decides factual and legal questions before making the final judgment.

A criminal trial typically comprises the following six phases:

Choosing a Jury- The jury trials start when the 12 jurors have been chosen, and the court does this by randomly selecting people who are registered to vote. Further, a questionnaire is given to determine whether they are qualified to serve on the jury.

Opening Statements- It requires the defence and the prosecution to give their opening statements that mean that this is an opportunity for both the parties to provide basic facts to the jurors, introduce them to the disputes on the matter at hand. This instance provides a roadmap for the jurors and helps them stay connected with the case.

Witness Testimony and Cross-Examination- Both the parties are required to present their witnesses, and the courtroom procedures of self-examination and cross-examination are done. This gives them the chance to prove their evidence and turn the case towards their benefit.

Closing Argument- The closing arguments are the final arguments in which both the party’s plea to the jurors and the relief they are asking.

Jury Instruction- The jury gives the instructions to the parties to either disperse or provide some other information, as stated.

Jury Deliberation and Announcement of Verdict- The jury discuss and deliberate on the witnesses and the facts presented. Once the jury discusses and comes on to a majority decision, they announce that verdict in the court of law.


The Story of the Last Jury Trail in India

The case of commander K. M. Nanavati v State of Maharashtra[1] was the last case that was subject to the input of a jury, after which the jury system had to be abolished. This changed the face of the judicial system of India. In the above-stated case, the jury acquitted Nanavati who was accused of killing his wife's lover, which was considered to be based on overwhelming media attention. The jury's failure to convict Nanavatia naval officer, for the murder of his wife’s lover is often considered one of the major reasons for the abolition of jury trials in India. There are various movies depicting courtroom drama, one of them being 'Rustom’,[2] starring Akshay Kumar as Nanavati, is an adaptation of the last jury trial. The fact that the jury gets convinced by the media’s sympathy poses a significant question to the integrity of the jury. Nanavati himself surrendered to the police, but the jury decided on 'not guilty' because it seemed that it was an act of self-defence. In the jury system, there are 12 jurors who take part in the discussion and deliberation and come to a verdict. The jurors acquitted Nanavati with the charge of murder and set him free. Even after this case, it was seen that the jury had wrongly convicted the innocent accused and the higher court overturned the jury's decision.

The jury system is prevalent in the US and the UK and has been a prominent part of their judicial system. The citizens have a right to a jury trial in these common law countries. Regarding the case, some argue that the jurors were not 'the right people’; they were ignorant and corruptible. “In an influential report out of Uttar Pradesh in 1950, K. N. Wanchoo, then on the Allahabad High Court and later Chief Justice of the Supreme Court explained that there was not enough ‘the right class of people’ to serve as jurors in the State.”


The Present Scenario

The current scenario comprises of the recent proceedings of contempt of court against comedians like Kunal Kamra, cartoonist like Rachita Taneja, senior advocates like Prashant Bhushan, and also the bail being given to journalist Arnab Goswami. Not even going to the fact of what is right or what is wrong, these instances have raised a doubt towards the working of a judge-based system in India. The case of Kunal Kamra is the contempt proceedings being initiated because of his disrespectful tweets about the CJI and the Supreme Court. Similar is the case with the other two accused, they have questioned the functioning of the judiciary. Going by these lines and keeping the loopholes of the jury system aside, jury trials allow the common people of India (albeit a small widely unrepresentative number) to take part in imperative legal proceedings, something that would help restore faith and trust in the judiciary.’ A trial by jury would help reflect the values and thoughts of the public.

These proceedings reflect judicial independence and a common-fold authority that the judiciary is carrying forward. One of the most pressing and important questions of these times is about what the court should prioritize during a pandemic. These suo moto proceedings against these comedians and cartoonists are being taken into consideration much before more consequential cases of common people are given a chance at justice. A kind of uncertainty has developed into the citizens’ mind that the court is ‘biased’ towards the rich and the influential. The jurors, being common people selected randomly, could help give a better understanding and such legal proceedings that could help restore faith.


Importance of Discussion- ‘12 ANGRY MEN’

The 1957 film, ‘12 Angry Men’[3] is one of the best dramatizations of a jury trial which brings into light the importance of discussion and deliberation while making grave judgments like death penalties or life imprisonment. This captivating film opens with a case wherein a young man is being accused of the murder of his father and the judge has found him guilty, and then it is the time for discussion by the jury. After the fruitful discussion, the fact that it went from the majority voting for guilty except just one juror to all the 12 jurors unanimously voting for not guilty is a major focus of what a jury’s discussion might yield for the case. The jury members, even after their difference of opinions, unanimously decided that there was a ‘reasonable doubt’ and that the boy cannot be held guilty and would not be given the death penalty. The judge’s verdict was based on the facts which were ‘on the surface’ but the jurors went into the depth of the matter and broke down the facts into ‘flesh and bones’.

Similarly, the above-mentioned cases like those concerning contempt of court and sedition law proceedings could be better resolved by the jury system as the judgments would then incorporate an opinion of more than a bench of judges. Contempt cases would be better resolved through these interactions. When the decision is given by some of ‘us’ then it is more likely to be accepted willingly without raising doubt on the procedures. This is what juror discussion and deliberation entails.


Contempt of Court and Proceedings

Contempt can be civil and criminal. The Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 defines civil contempt as “willful disobedience to any judgment, decree, direction, order, writ or other processes of a court or willful breach of an undertaking given to a court” and criminal contempt as “the publication (whether by words, spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise) of any matter or doing of any act which scandalizes or tends to scandalize, lowers the authority, prejudices or interferes with judicial proceedings or administration of justice.” In the case of Baradakanta Mishra v the Registrar of Orissa High Court,[4] the court held that a generic form of such contempt is the vilification of the judge. “The Court has to ask whether the vilification is of the Judge as a judge, or it is the vilification of the Judge as an individual. If the latter, the Judge is left to his private remedies, and the Court has no power to commit for contempt. If it is the former, the Court will proceed with scrupulous care in cases that are clear and beyond a reasonable doubt”. The Supreme Court based the initiation of proceedings on the former part of the description. The tweets were being seen as the vilification of a judge as a judge and not as an individual, thus the proceedings.

In jury-based systems, when contempt of court proceedings is examined by the jury which undergoes deliberation over various facts and issues, it ensures more transparency. Considering current issues with regards to the judicial decisions and the taking up of cases what they deem to be of important nature, the Supreme Court has popularly been considered as a court ‘biased’ towards the ruling party, the rich, and the influential. The various instances also show that major constitutional rights like Freedom of Speech and Expression[5] and Freedom of Religion[6] have been rightly upheld by the High Courts of various states, while the Supreme Court is busy dealing with cases of contempt. The back-to-back initiation of contempt proceedings towards various journalists, comedians, and cartoonists have been considered a major setback of the Supreme Court in dealing with sensitive issues like Article 370,[7] the UAPA,[8] the Kerala journalist case, who was in jail for many days and did not get a hearing,all of these are pending for a long time. If the jury is included in the judicial system, specifically while hearing these controversial cases, the people would be more willing to accept the status of the judiciary without its value being diminished in the eyes of the citizens regardless of the final decision.


Challenges in Choosing the Jurors- ‘THE RIGHT PEOPLE’

The main issue arising here would be the selection of the jurors. A jury’s decision would be acceptable to the people only if the jurors are from among the cross-section of society. This is something that was lacking while deciding the jurors in the Nanavati case. Now, in the present scenario, if the above-mentioned cases are dealt with by the jurors who are, say, not politically aligned towards the ruling party, then the decision would be considered more effective in the eyes of the public. What happened in the case of Nanavati was that he came from a respectable Parsi family, as did the newspaper’s founding editor, R. K. Karanjia. Nanavati’s victim, Prem Ahuja was a Sindhi, an outsider and a wealthy man, who was less than welcome in elite, cosmopolitan Bombay. Further, the jurors were influenced by the media, which tried to. suggest that Nanavati was merely acting out of self-defence, something that, if accepted by the court as true, would have helped Nanavati considerably.’

The case of the comedian Kunal Kamra and his disrespectful tweets about the Supreme Court, the cartoon by Rachita Taneja about the ‘biased’ nature of the Supreme Court towards the right, rich and the influential, in all these cases, if the 'right people' are selected in the jury, it would bring about a better public reaction towards the status of the judiciary. An impartial jury would bring in an absolute change in the judiciary’s work, bringing in faith and further lessening the impact of such trials in the democracy.


Conclusion and the Way Ahead

The judiciary has already experienced the problems regarding jury trials with the acquittal in the Nanavati case and the various other convicts wrongly acquitted by the jurors in the earlier cases, yet in the present time, the jury trials could be one aspect if not the best one, that could help restore faith in the judiciary. The selection of the ‘right people’ would also be a matter of concern, but that would certainly help in the efficiency of justice. With regards to the thoughts and voices of the public, jurors would help reflect them as decisions they make. This would also ensure a steady flow of justice in matters of public affairs. The absolute task of the jury trials would be to consider these sensitive matters at hand and generate a public opinion through their decisions. These decisions would reflect what people think and what they feel about the way courts should deal with these issues. Through this process, the judges would not be blamed, and they would get a space for themselves to give verdicts efficiently.

‘Justice delayed is justice denied.’

[1] K.M. Nanavati v St. of Maharashtra, (1962) AIR 605. [2] RUSTOM (Zee Studios 2016). [3] 12 ANGRY MEN (Orion-Nova Productions 1957). [4] Baradakanta Mishra v Registrar of Orissa High Court, (1970) AIR 710. [5] INDIA CONST. Art. 19, cl.1(a). [6] INDIA CONST. Art. 25. [7] INDIA CONST. Art 370. [8] The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, (1967).



 

[1] Ananya Shamshery is an undergraduate from Jindal Global Law School. For any discussion related to the article, she can be contacted via mail: 20jgls-ashamshery@jgu.edu.in.


Preferred Citation – Ananya Shamshery, “Restoring Faith in Judiciary: A closer look at the Jury Trials", Syin & Sern Law Review, Published on 5th February 2021.



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