How long does a jury take to reach a verdict?
In a case I did last week the jury took about 15 minutes to acquit my client. Whilst I too would have found my client not guilty, I was surprised at the swiftness of the verdict because all 12 jurors had to agree on the verdict.
Clients in the Crown Court often ask how long the jury will take to reach a verdict. Frankly, you don’t have to be a lawyer to answer that question, for they can take as long as they want. Within reason. If jurors really can’t reach agreement then they will be ‘discharged’ and a re-trial will probably follow.
What some people don’t realise is that any verdict delivered by a jury has to be unanimous. That means that with a full jury of 12 people, all 12 must agree on the verdict – whether that verdict is guilty or not guilty.
If a jury is really struggling and a certain period of time has passed (usually at least 2 hours but sometimes much longer in a lengthy case), then a ‘majority verdict’ can be accepted. This doesn’t mean a simple majority will do though: in a jury of 12, 10 jurors must agree on any verdict – i.e. on a guilty or a not guilty verdict.
Things get more confusing if the jury has been depleted – sometimes jurors are ‘discharged’ and leave the case. However, there can never be less than 9 jurors.
Section 17(1) of the Juries Act 1974 states that the minimum majorities permissible are – and this is the stuff of a law school multiple-choice question – 11-1, 10-2, 10-1, or 9-1. A jury of 9 must be unanimous. This is the type of thing that barristers have to look up in the books when asked about.
So it can take time to talk through the evidence and reach a consensus, or a majority.
Though my recent verdict was swift, it was not my fastest. My record is 6 minutes. From discussions with fellow barristers, that seems to be pretty close to am all-time record – there wasn’t even time for a juror to have a cigarette.
Conversely, my longest wait for a jury was 18 days. It was said at the time to have been the longest ever known at the Old Bailey.
So when a client asks how long the jury will be out for, its always tempting to reply “anywhere between 6 minutes and 18 days”.