Deciding Between a Judge or Jury Trial

31 Oct

A West Australian parliamentary committee is exploring a proposal that would allow accused criminals to choose between a judge or jury trial. In Victoria, all criminal cases are heard by a jury, however, many supporters of the contemplated change believe that by allowing access to judge-alone trials the delivery of justice will be improved upon. Furthermore, cost and times of trials could be greatly reduced.

There are some people that believe that in our modern times a fair jury has become difficult to attain.  The fact that everyone, everywhere can view the news and get information about a case before it goes to trial, makes it hard to believe that unbiased jurors are easy to come by. This is particularly true in cases that involve drug charges or sex crimes. The internet has made it easy for jurors to gain material about a case that would be inadmissable in court. Due to this, and the fact that there are such strong emotional reactions to the news of certain crimes, it makes it increasingly difficult for a defendant to have a fair trial in front of a jury.

Understandably, transparency is important to people. Many have argued that judge-alone trials could reduce the time taken by juries, especially during complex legal affairs. Judges often provide detailed reasons for how they’ve reached a decision, while juries are not required to explain how a verdict was reached. Lawyers can speculate as to the reasoning of a decision but, many believe that their clients never have a chance in front of a jury of their peers.

At the same time, there are people that believe a judge-alone trial leaves the defendants fate up to one individual, who may be out of touch with the rest of the community. A jury trial allows the community’s participation in administering justice, which is important in a society. 

The importance of a fair trial with a jury of your peers is monumental, however, during the age of digital communication and social media it is easy to understand why so many feel that it’s not possible for jury members to be completely unprejudiced. Furthermore, juries can at times be swayed by outside factors that are not necessarily logical.

Currently, for Western Australia to make the move to allow judge-alone trials defendants will have to showcase circumstances that clearly demonstrate how justice can be better served by changing the current law. For the time being, a jury is still the preferred system in all Australian States

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