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Jury reforms, Mixed tribunals, Jury decision making, Adversary system, Lay participation in law, Active jury reforms


Comparative and Foreign Law | Courts | Judges | Litigation


In many countries, lay people participate as decision makers in legal cases. Some countries include their citizens in the justice system as lay judges or jurors, who assess cases independently. The legal systems of other nations combine lay and law-trained judges who decide cases together in mixed tribunals. The International Conference on Lay Participation in the Criminal Trial in the 21st Century provided useful contrasts among different methods of incorporating lay voices into criminal justice systems worldwide. Systems with inquisitorial methods are more likely to employ mixed courts, whereas adversarial systems more often use juries. Research presented at the Conference showed that lay judges are often marginalized when they decide cases together with professional judges. By contrast, the jury system insulates lay decisionmakers from judges during the deliberation process, and provides greater potential for lay input to determine legal outcomes.

However, the jury has been the subject of sharp attack on grounds of its supposed incompetence and bias. Some critics argue that the complexity of today's criminal and civil disputes is high and that a group of randomly chosen citizens is unlikely to fully understand the evidentiary and legal issues in such cases. Other opponents of jury trial claim that racist and other biases regularly infect jury verdicts. Further criticism comes from business leaders who argue that the irrationality and unpredictability of civil jury verdicts and awards undermine business and industry.

These and other criticisms of the American jury trial have stimulated a widespread movement for jury reform. This Article focuses on jury reforms that encourage a more active approach in jury decision-making. An intriguing aspect of contemporary U.S. jury reform is that several reforms appear to move the jury away from strict adversarial practice and toward adoption of some features of the inquisitorial approach. The Article draws on the comparative information provided by the Conference to speculate about how contemporary jury reforms may modify the adversarial ideal of the neutral, passive jury. The Article focuses on two specific reforms that provide the strongest challenge to the traditional model of the passive jury, allowing jurors to ask questions of witnesses and permitting jurors to discuss evidence during the trial.

Publication Citation

Published in: Saint Louis University Public Law Review, vol. 21, no. 1 (2002).