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Book Review: Juries in the 21st Century Print E-mail

book_juries.jpgThe following is a review of Dr Jacqueline Horan's book, 'Juries in the 21st Century' , by The Honourable Justice TF Bathurst, Chief Justice of New South Wales.  The book was launched on 6 December 2012 by Victorian Court of Appeal Justices Mark Weinberg and Simon Whelan.

 The original Guinness Book of Records came about as a result of an unresolved dispute at a shooting party in County Wexford, Ireland in 1951.

Sir Hugh Beaver, who was then the managing director of Guinness Brewery, wanted to know which was the fastest game bird in Europe.

Despite heated arguments and a search of the host’s extensive library, the answer could not be found. And so Beaver, realising that similar

disputes must be happening in pubs and clubs around the world, set about creating a definitive collection of the world’s superlative facts.

The first edition of the Guinness Book of Records was published in 1955, and within six months it was a number one bestseller in the UK.1

 The innovation of written language and the invention of the printing press are two of the most significant watershed moments in the history of our relationship with information. However, that timeline is also peppered with smaller moments that nonetheless reflect

fundamental changes in our assumptions about, and expectations of, information. The publication and rapid popularity of the Guinness Book of Records is one such smaller moment. It was by no means the first attempt to collate types of information into a single volume. To take just one example, dictionaries in various forms have been around for millennia. Nevertheless, the popularity of the Guinness Book of Records from 1955 reflects a shift towards a cultural interest in and expectation that an increasing number of classes of information - in this case, world superlatives - are knowable, useful, and above all, accessible. 

 

The advent of the internet is a watershed moment in the history of information closer in scale to the introduction of written language or movable type. It has changed our relationship with information radically and irrevocably. Nevertheless, its influence shares characteristics with the introduction of the 1955 Guinness Book of Records: it has exponentially grown the public’s expectation that more and more classes of information will be knowable, useful and easily accessible.  As Dr Horan explains, our expanding expectations have significant implications for the modern jury. 

Applications like search engines, GPS enabled maps and social networks make us expect and feel entitled to information immediately, in direct response to our inquiries. In addition to feeling entitled to information, we expect it to be intelligently tailored to our needs. Search engines filter results according to past searches, surfing histories and geographic location. Social networks identify our friends and work associates before we’ve searched for them. Maps provide directions, estimate travel times, and give real time traffic updates and public transportation timetables. We are thus expected to do less work to retrieve relevant information, and have far less patience for questions that go unanswered. This shifting relationship with information is also reflected in our education system, which increasingly emphasises the ability to identify necessary information and then obtain and analyse it, over the ability to simply retain and regurgitate information.

 

However, this way of being is, in Dr Horan’s words, ‘fundamentally at odds’ with a central concept of the jury system: that jury members confine themselves to the evidence and law presented in court. Legal directions delivered orally, and often at length, evidence presented orally and not in chronological order, and prohibitions on independent research create an environment more at odds with the learning and information expectations of jurors than ever before. Thus, the 21st Century jury faces unique challenges, ripe for exploration and analysis.

 I come now to say something about this particular publication, which attempts to do just that.

 ‘Timely’ is a word often applied to newly published legal research; however, in this case ‘timely’ is inadequate to express the value of this work and the unique challenges that were faced in bringing it to fruition. A better word is needed.

 To begin with, juries are a notoriously difficult area of study. They are, by their very nature, secretive and sacrosanct. They are also nearly impossible to replicate ‘in the lab’ for the purpose of observation. A work which comprehensively profiles the contemporary Australian jury and its environment can therefore be described as ‘accomplished’. But this is merely the start.

 

Dr Horan then sought out a second, even more fraught, area of study: social and technological change in the 21st Century. Committing printed words to paper in a time of such rapid change, in order to commentate on that change no less, would in many other hands have been a fool’s errand. The word ‘foolhardy’ may have applied. However, Dr Horan manages to tackle the impact of technological innovation and social media on the jury system in a manner that will remain relevant through the years of change to come.

 I fear I have no choice, therefore, but to resort to superlatives in describing this work. This book is the most timely, accomplished and not-at-all-foolhardy contribution to the study of juries in Australia this century. Perhaps Guinness will take notice.'

The Honourable Chief Justice TF Bathurst

Footnotes

1. Guinness World Records, “About”, www.guinnessworldrecord.com.

 


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