Published on February 3, 2016

Evidence and the jury

Citizens & science Participation Compass People & participation Scotland

By Simon Burall

Simon Burall is a Senior Associate of Involve. He has extensive experience in the fields of democratic reform, governance, public participation, stakeholder engagement, and accountability and transparency.

carving of judge, Quinn DombrowskiAs I said in my last two posts, I’ve been a juror on a crown court case for the last two and a half weeks. In this third post in a series of three, I reflect on whether my experience as a juror has taught me anything that might improve the contribution of participants in deliberative public engagement processes that we run.

The three posts explore three related area:

One of the clearest ways that being a juror in a criminal trial differs from being a participant in a more deliberative process is the way information is provided.

In the kinds of processes we design information is designed to be as interactive as possible and we use as many different techniques as possible in recognition of the different ways that people process information. We’ll break up evidence sessions into short chunks of 20 minutes or less (normally) and try to minimise long ‘chalk and talk’ presentations as much as possible. We certainly won’t repeat information for fear of losing participants’ attention and interest.

For a juror it couldn’t be any more different. We sat passively for periods of around an hour (a few times over) listening to testimony, other forms of evidence or legal direction.

During the course of the trial, the prosecution laid out their case and the defence theirs. Then the prosecution called witnesses, who were questioned and then cross-examined. Then the same thing happened with the prosecution witnesses. Finally prosecution, defence and then the judge all summed up the case. We got the same information (though from very different perspectives) a number of times. As I say, this is something we’d never consider doing in a process we run. In addition to the concern of boring participants, it is also for practical reasons. The trial I was on lasted 9 days and it would take the threat of legal sanction to get a representative sample of citizens to attend for that long for most processes.

This difference in approach was instructive. I have no idea what factors the judge was taking into account when making some of the decisions he did about how long sessions should be. However, all of the jurors appeared to be of the view that they could have sat for longer sessions and longer days.* I certainly felt that the judge could have asked us if we wanted to stop at 3pm on the penultimate day of the trial, halfway through his summing up. This was partly motivated by our shared desire for the case to be over as quickly as possible so we could get back to work, but it was also just that we felt we could have absorbed more information.

Given that our jury was randomly selected with a good cross-section of society, this has implications for how Involve presents information for some of the processes it runs. It’s something I’d like to explore further when we evaluate processes and test different ways of getting complex information across.

Finally, and it goes without saying, but all of the jurors took their job extremely seriously. It reinforced Involve’s constant refrain that citizens, in this case quite literally plucked out of their houses at random, can deal with challenging material with great care and add real value to their community.

Picture Credit: Quinn Dombrowski

*The particular structure of the case we sat on, and the way that witnesses had to be called meant that it was clear to the jury that for some days this wouldn’t have been possible despite what we would have liked.

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