Student finds way to root out biased jurors

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Sep 22, 2017
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The researcher appraised jurors in a mock rape trial

Anna Gowthorpe/PA

A system that claims to predict juror bias in criminal trials has been developed by a British researcher.

Dominic Willmott, a University of Huddersfield researcher, claims that his “juror decision scale” has the potential to screen out jurors who are liable to reach pre-deliberation verdicts.

The process uses the attitudes and psychology of jury members to predict the verdict in rape trials. So far the system has been used on simulated court cases, but Willmott plans to test the scale with real juries. 

After randomly contacting members of the public via the electoral roll, Willmott used 100 volunteers to form simulated juries for nine day-long mock trials in which actors took the roles of defendants and alleged victims. Practising barristers also participated.

A lecture theatre was transformed into a courtroom and the judge was played by the barrister Nigel Booth, of the Manchester chambers St John’s Buildings.

Before each mock trial, Willmott used an internationally established psychological attitudes scale to question and appraise every juror.

“I was interested in whether attitudes and psychological constructs would enable us to predict the outcome. And we found that they did,” he said.

He added that his findings so far indicated that the Ministry of Justice should “give us better access and let us test these ideas on a couple of real juries, and if we get consistent results, then we could argue for screening”.

A study this month found that nearly half of all juries in rape cases come to a guilty verdict before deliberation.

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