It’s a question that we often get asked, more so since the law changed regarding what is commonly known as “double jeopardy”—typically a rule preventing the same person being prosecuted for the same offence on more than one occasion.
The Jury is comprised of 12 people. Before a Trial starts in the Crown Court there is a process of “jury selection”—12 members of the Jury are selected from a “pool” of available candidates that have been selected from the wider community. This 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. 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. It is a very serious responsibility—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 Jury are sent to the “retirement room”, a private room in the Court building where they are free to discuss the case and their thoughts amongst themselves.
Getting 12 people all to agree isn’t always as easy as it might sound. Crown Court trials can divide opinions, especially when the evidence or case has been long, complex or emotional, and involves the evidence of many witnesses who have given different versions of events, and therefore it’s not always possible for 12 people to reach an agreement on whether the accused person is guilty or not.
In these cases, 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.
If a “majority verdict” doesn’t break the stalemate, the Judge asks the Jury if it is felt that by giving them more time, they are 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 has neither been acquitted or convicted. In these cases when a verdict has not been reached, it is known as a “hung jury”.
If the Jury has been discharged and the trial concluded without a verdict, the Crown Prosecution Service must determine whether they will have a retrial—this is dependent on the views of the victim(s) or interested parties.