Nick Titchener, director and solicitor advocate at London Criminal Defence Solicitors, Lawtons, discusses what will happen in the event that a jury cannot reach a unanimous verdict in a case, plus:

  • How a jury is made up
  • What the jury is responsible for
  • How many jurors must agree
  • The meaning of a majority verdict
  • The meaning of a hung jury

What happens when a jury can’t reach a verdict? It’s a question that we often get asked, more so since the law changed regarding what is commonly known as ‘double jeopardy’, which is essentially a rule which prevents the same person being prosecuted for the same offence on more than one occasion.

How is a jury made up?

A jury is comprised of 12 people. Before a trial starts in the Crown Court there is a process of jury selection, whereby 12 members of the jury are selected from a ‘pool’ of available candidates that have been selected from the wider community.

This selection is required in almost all criminal cases where a defendant is accused of committing a criminal offence which they dispute and have pleaded not guilty to.

What is the jury responsible for?

Once the trial starts, it becomes the responsibility of the jury to decide whether that person is guilty of the offence(s) for which they are on trial. This is the essence of a trial and the essence of what the jury must do.

Acting as a juror is a very serious responsibility and the jury are told by the judge presiding over the trial that they cannot convict a person unless they are sure of that person’s guilt – otherwise known as being sure and beyond all reasonable doubt. The announcement of their decision is the verdict.

Before the jury are asked whether they have reached a verdict, the judge reminds them of the evidence that they have heard and the law that they must apply to the case, which is relevant to what the accused person is standing trial for.

Once the judge has done this, the members of the jury are sent to the retirement room, which is a private room in the court building where they are free to discuss the case and their thoughts amongst themselves.

How many jurors must agree in order to reach a verdict?  

Getting 12 people all to agree on a verdict isn’t always as easy as it might sound. Complex crown court trials can divide opinions, especially when the evidence or case has been long, complex or emotional, or involves the evidence of many witnesses who have given different versions of events.

It’s not always possible for 12 people to reach a unanimous agreement on whether the accused person is guilty or not.  

What is a majority verdict?  

In cases where the jury struggles to all agree on the same verdict, the judge may decide that a verdict can be returned if a majority of the jury can reach an agreement on whether they are sure of the accused’s guilt or innocence.

This is known as ‘majority verdict’ and normally means that the judge is content to receive a verdict if 10 or more of the 12 jurors are in agreement.

What is a hung jury?

If a majority verdict doesn’t break the stalemate, the judge will ask the jury if it is felt that if they were given more time, they would be likely to be able to reach a decision in which 10 or more are able to agree.

If the answer is no, the judge will discharge the jury and the trial will conclude, albeit without a verdict. The accused will be neither acquitted or convicted.

In these cases when a verdict has not been reached, the jury is known as a ‘hung jury’.

If the jury has been discharged and the trial concluded without a verdict, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) must determine whether they will have a retrial. This is dependent on the views of the victim(s) or interested parties.

About the author

Nick Titchener, director and solicitor advocate of Lawtons, is a dedicated criminal solicitor with considerable experience in legal cases including sexual offences, violence and assault. Nick’s measured and methodical approach means he thrives on even the most complex case.

Nick also oversees the overall management of Lawtons Solicitors, a specialist firm of criminal law defence solicitors with branches across London, Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire and Essex.