The Pryce Jury’s Questions
The jurors in the Vicky Pryce case may be stupid but the jury system is a bulwark of British liberty: that seems to be the gist of several comments on the questions asked by the jury before it failed to agree a verdict.*
I disagree. Even the really stupid-sounding questions went to the heart of some deep legal puzzles.
The jury’s questions included whether a jury could come to a verdict “based on a reason that was not presented in court and has no facts or evidence to support it, either from the prosecution or the defence”. Oh, how the sophisticates of the Guardian and the Mail laughed at such simpletons. Mr Justice Sweeney, too, responded with exasperation: “The answer to that question is simply: no.”
But it is not so simple. The question was not phrased in legal language, but the extent to which juries are allowed to use their general knowledge of life is not at all clear.
The jury also asked the judge to clarify what is meant by “reasonable doubt”. Again, a very good question, on which thousands of learned legal words have been written, and which often confuses juries. Again, the judge was unhelpful: “These are ordinary English words that the law does not allow me to help you with.”
This was a difficult case in which Pryce chose to use an unusual and unfamiliar defence – that of “marital coercion”. The jury were absolutely entitled to ask for clarification and it is no use saying that the judge had already explained the terms involved and what they had to decide. If they asked the questions, he hadn’t done it well enough.
*The questions the jury asked the judge:
You have defined the defence of marital coercion at page 5 and also explained what does not fall within the definition by way of examples.
Please expand upon the definition (specifically “will was overborne”), provide examples of what may fall within the defence, and does this defence require violence or physical threats.
In the scenario where the defendant may be guilty but there is not enough evidence provided by the prosecution at the material time of when she signed the NIP (between 3 and 7 May 2003) to feel sure beyond reasonable doubt what should the verdict be = not guilty or unable/unsafe to provide a verdict?
If there is debatable evidence supporting the prosecution’s case, can inferences be drawn to arrive at a verdict? If so, inferences/speculation on the full evidence or only where you have directed us to do so (eg circumstantial evidence, lies, failure by VP to mention facts to the police).
Can you define what is reasonable doubt?
Can a juror come to a verdict based on a reason that was not presented in court and has no facts or evidence to support it, either from the prosecution or defence?
Can we infer anything from the fact that the defence didn’t bring witnesses from the time of the offence, such as au pair, neighbours?
Does the defendant have an obligation to present a defence?
Can we speculate about the events at the time VP signed the form or what was in her mind at that time?
Your Honour, the jury is considering the facts provided but have continued to ask the questions raised by the police. Given the case has come to court without answers to the police’s questions, please advise on which facts in the bundle the jury shall consider to determine a not guilty or guilty verdict.
Would religious conviction be a good enough reason for a wife feeling that she had no choice ie she promised to obey her husband in her wedding vows and he had ordered her to do something and she felt she had to obey?
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