Trial by jury is one of the underpinning notions of justice. Juries, made from 12 people chosen at random from the community, inject a societal element into the legal system. They act as a check against the power of the state, and were one of the key principles established in the Magna Carta which curtailed the power of the King. Juries are proof that justice arises from the community. While judges concern themselves with issues of law, juries are responsible for determining the facts of the case. In other words, they are there to decide who is telling the truth: juries are a 12 body community lie detector. The only problem is that this time worn mechanism for establishing truth has a lie, or at least a fiction, concealed in its own heart.
The lie is this: the unanimity of the juries verdict. Twelve people of different backgrounds are expected to coalesce together into a single viewpoint. This is a catataxic transformation. Twelve individual voices on level 1 merge to form a single, representative community voice on level 2. This magical mutation happens in private; nothing must disturb the seclusion of this sacred metamorphosis. Anyone who violates this will be severely punished. Just look at today’s news that a juror who facebooked the defendant has been given a eight month sentence. Social networking can be criminally dangerous!
When touched at their weakest point , the strong react with disproportionate violence. Maybe the reason for this excessive reaction from the judicial system is that their vulnerable underbelly has been poked. The protective veil drawn around the jury’s deliberations conceals a fatal weakness: it is not possible for twelve people to speak as one. Not without a lot of back room bullying, threats, posturing and other social unpleasantness.
The inherent conflict of a jury’s deliberations had been exploited to dramatic effect in the movie 12 Angry Men (1957) and to comic effect by Tony Hancock in a TV episode of the same name. Recent research shows that jurors often feel intimidated and do not speak out in a group as large as 12. A better size for a proper, balanced group discussion is a group of four. This implies that a smaller jury , or a “best of three system” based on subgroups of 4 might give a more representative result. To traditionalists, suggestions like this which tamper with the fundamental rock of justice is anathema. The catataxic transformation of individuals to a single community voice is sacred. It should not be messed with even if it pushes the bounds of credulity. In fact, it may be sacred because it pushes the bounds of credulity. It is an article of faith just like the transubstantiation of bread to the body of Christ at the heart of the Christian ritual. Or the belief that anointing with sperm whale oil transforms a mere mortal to a monarch. This is the only part of a British coronation that is so sacred it has never been photographed or televised.