The future of the jury in criminal trials - the problem of jury directions

The future of the jury in criminal trials - the problem of jury directions
21 November 2016, 6.00pm - 8.00pm
Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, 17 Russell Square, London WC1B 5DR

Justice Mark Weinberg, Court of Appeal, Supreme Court of Victoria, Australia

There has been concern for some time that modern jury directions have become too complex, resulting in longer trials, and successful appeals against conviction.  It is also said that judges too rarely use modern means of communicating with juries, and that there is a better way forward. 

It must be said that the position in Australia seems to be far worse, in this regard, than in other comparable jurisdictions.  A comparative analysis of the length of jury directions, and the extraordinary manner in which they are delivered, bears this out. 

The fact that jury directions have become too numerous, and too expansive, has led to a number of attempts at reform.  In some places, ‘pattern directions’ have been developed which, if followed, may bring about a degree of simplification, and coherence, that is currently lacking.

In Victoria, a far more radical approach has been developed.  This involves legislative intervention to simplify the directions which judges are required to give.  It also involves modifying some traditional aspects of substantive law, and evidence, that, over the years, have continually caused difficulty. 
This discussion will focus upon the problem of undue complexity, unnecessarily lengthy trials, and how best to preserve the institution of trial by jury in serious criminal matters.

Justice Weinberg was appointed to the Court of Appeal, Supreme Court of Victoria, in July 2008, prior to which he was a judge of the Federal Court of Australia from 1998 to 2008.  Previously held the following appointments: Deputy President, Federal Police Disciplinary Tribunal; Non-resident Judge, Supreme Court of Fiji; Judge, Supreme Court of the Australian Capital Territory; and Chief Justice, Supreme Court of Norfolk Island.  In 1975 he joined the University of Melbourne becoming Dean of the Faculty from 1984 to 1985. He was appointed Queen’s Counsel in 1986 and was Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions from 1988 to 1991.  The Honourable Justice Mark Weinberg was admitted to practice in New South Wales in 1974, and in Victoria in 1975, and his name was entered on the roll of barristers and solicitors of the High Court in 1979.


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