The Jury: Murder Trial

Channel 4, Monday-Thursday


The jury room remains one of the last places to ban television cameras. Almost everywhere else has succumbed, from the maternity ward (One Born Every Minute) to the funeral parlour (Stacey Dooley: Inside the Undertakers). The courtroom has been breached (the BBC’s excellent Murder Trial series), but not the jury room. Not yet.

In what was billed as a “groundbreaking experiment”, The Jury: Murder Trial (C4, Monday-Thursday) brought that day one step closer. That’s assuming the authorities would dare. After watching the first episode of this I’m not so sure they would.

The Jury: Murder Trial restaged a real trial using actors. Two juries, made up of “ordinary members of the public” gathered in a court-looking building in Essex to consider the evidence for and against a husband accused of killing his wife.The two juries did not know about each other, using separate staircases to exit and enter the building. As far as each jury was concerned the fate of the defendant lay in their hands alone. At the end of the week would the two juries agree, and what did it say about the fairness of jury trials if they did not?

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The juries ranged in age from a student to a retired caretaker and included a building firm owner, a bus driver, and a catering assistant. Each individual arrived with their own prejudices. “Three children, three different dads,” muttered one juror about the victim.

They also brought their life experiences. Sometimes this aided understanding, at other points it made jurors less forgiving. By the end of the first day several jurors were feeling sorry for the accused.

Already, the strongest personalities are starting to dominate and persuade others to join their “side”. One in particular fancies himself in the Henry Fonda role of Juror 8.

The “courtroom” was a place of shadows, with only the juries starkly lit. The gloom fitted the tale but was overdone.

Where the programme got it spot on was showing the jury to be a living force, made up of the best of us, and sometimes the not so good. Each jury could switch direction in a blink. Depending on how charitable you wanted to be, these were either open minds at work, or sheep that were too easily led. Whatever opinion the viewer forms at the end of the four days they are unlikely to ever forget this glimpse behind the jury room door.