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Information Needs of Scottish Jurors: Evaluation of the Scottish Courts Service Booklet - Research Findings

DescriptionThis research evaluated how effectively the booklet meets the information needs of members of the public called for jury service.
ISBN0 748 66114 X
Official Print Publication Date
Website Publication DateJanuary 28, 1999

Crime and Criminal Justice Research Findings No 18 (1997)

Information Needs of Scottish jurors Evaluation of the Scottish courts Service Booklet
Martine Stead, Lynn MacFadyen, Gerard Hastings and Douglas Eadie
Centre for Social Marketing, University of Strathclyde
ISBN 0-748-66114-X Publisher The Scottish Office

The Scottish Courts Service booklet 'Information for Potential Jurors in Criminal Trials' is the main official source of information about jury service for prospective jurors in Scotland. This research evaluated how effectively the booklet meets the information needs of members of the public called for jury service, and made recommendations for future information provision to prospective jurors.
Main findings
  • Prospective jurors have limited prior understanding and experience of criminal trials, and have strongly polarised reactions to the prospect of serving on a jury.
  • Jurors described much of their experience of jury service as stressful, tedious and confusing, although most found serving on the actual trial to be rewarding.
  • Most jurors read some parts of the booklet but only the most motivated jurors read all of it. The booklet was perceived to be helpful and thorough in many respects, but also to have some weaknesses.
  • The Jurors' Helpline was successfully used by many jurors, although the information promoting it was felt to be misleading as the service consisted of a recorded message only.
  • The booklet's information content was perceived in some places to be ambiguous or to present an inaccurate and misleading account of jury service. Some aspects of jury service were felt to be not sufficiently covered, and others to be covered in too much detail.
  • The language and style of the booklet presented problems for some respondents.
  • Visually the booklet was considered unappealing. Respondents reacted positively to an alternative layout for the booklet which made greater use of layout features to assist comprehension.
Introduction
This research study was commissioned by The Scottish Office Central Research Unit On behalf of the Scottish Courts Service (SCS). The aim of the research was to evaluate how effectively the booklet 'Information for Jurors' meets the needs of members of the public called for jury service in Scotland. The booklet contains both practical information for jurors prior to attending court as well as more general information about trial procedure, and is sent to all cited jurors with their citation notice.
The aims of the study were to establish whether jurors read, understand and made use of the information provided to them, to assess the extent to which their experience of attending court met their expectations based on the information in the booklet, and to make recommendations concerning possible improvements to the booklet and other information provision for prospective jurors.
Twelve focus groups were conducted in March and April 1997 with a total of 83 respondents. Three sub-samples were interviewed: (i) jurors who had served at the Edinburgh and Glasgow High and Sheriff Courts between October 1996 and January 1997; (ii) cited jurors who had attended the above courts but were not subsequently selected to serve; and (iii) members of the public who were eligible for jury service but had never been cited ('non-jurors'). Respondents were also sampled by age and socioeconomic group.
All respondents were asked about their general perceptions and understanding of jury service, and jurors were also asked about their actual experiences at court. All respondents were given a copy of the SCS booklet and asked in detail for their reactions to its content, language, style, tone, structure and visual appearance.
Perceptions of jury service
Before being cited for jury service, many prospective jurors had no firsthand experience of a criminal trial or even of entering a courtroom. White some aspects of jury service appeared familiar, largely from the media, many aspects were unknown. There was a basic understanding of jury citation, jury selection and court procedure, but also many gaps and inaccuracies in knowledge.
The limited understanding and experience of jury service displayed by prospective jurors prior to being cited underlines the importance of the SCS booklet as the main official source of information available to the public.
Attitudes towards jury service
Reactions to the prospect of serving as a juror varied considerably and tended to be polarised. Some prospective jurors were highly enthusiastic and motivated to participate, others responded with anxiety or irritation. These reactions were influenced by prior knowledge and experience, gender, social class and age.
Prospective jurors expressed a wide range of anxieties and concerns, which could be categorised as follows: practical questions regarding the likely length of the trial, compensation for expenses, finding the court and so on; emotional anxieties about the potentially distressing nature of the experience; ideological and moral qualms about the principle of jury service; and concerns about individual ability to perform the task competently.
Experience of jury service
Most jurors found their first day at court stressful. Many struggled to find their way around the court building, and experienced. long periods of waiting and a general feeling of being herded around. The lack of segregation of jurors from other parties to the trial came as a surprise and made some feel anxious. Jurors were critical of unexplained delays and of the apparent excessive number of jurors cited for each trial. Any information offered by court officials in person - regarding, for example, what might happen next or the reason for a delay - was welcomed, and a general feeling was expressed that more such information should be provided.
Once selected for the jury, jurors tended to find the trial interesting and rewarding. Several expressed a need for more information and guidance during the verdict deliberations.
The booklet
The concept of information for prospective jurors was well-received. The current booklet was perceived to cover many of respondents' concerns and was considered to be helpful, thorough, detailed and authoritative. Less positively, the booklet was also perceived as too long, difficult to understand and poorly structured. Respondents from socio-economic groups ABC1 were more likely than those from socioeconomic groups C2DE both to praise the booklet and to offer criticisms of it.
Most but not all jurors had received the booklet with their citation notice. There were 3 points at which the booklet was used: on first receipt, with the citation notice; immediately prior to attending court; and at court itself. The amount of attention jurors paid to the booklet varied depending on prior experience, motivation, concerns and social class
Prospective jurors tended to seek largely practical information from the booklet. Prior to attending court, many had limited interest in the more educational sections of the booklet relating to court procedure. Once at court, some jurors read the booklet in more detail, but many did not consult it,
finding themselves distracted by the court environment or overtaken by events. Awareness of the Jurors' Helpline service was high, and most had used it successfully. However, a few had experienced difficulties and the information promoting the service was perceived to be misleading as it implied a staffed Helpline rather than a recorded message.
Much of the practical information in the booklet was reasonably well understood. However, a number of specific sections were considered difficult to understand or ambiguous: 'Do you have to attend?', 'Where do you report to?', 'How is the jury selected?', 'What is the role of the jury?', 'How will the trial proceed?', information on pay and expenses, and information relating to people with disabilities. Jurors found the booklet easier to understand than did nonjurors, at least partly as a result of hindsight, and ABC1 respondents tended to find it easier to understand than did C2DE respondents.
The booklet was felt to reflect accurately many of the key aspects of jury service. However, sections on 'How long do you require to attend court?', 'Jurors' Helpline', arrival at court, security, and smoking were felt to be inaccurate or misleading. Furthermore, some of the more personal arid subjective aspects of jury service were not felt to be covered sufficiently in the booklet such as the atmosphere at court, the tedium and inconvenience of the experience, the emotions experienced by jurors, and advice on how to perform competently as juror.
The language and style of the booklet, particularly the legal terminology and complex sentences, presented problems for some respondents. Although a certain amount of legal language was considered to be necessary, several felt that the style could be made more accessible. The tone of the booklet was described as official and serious, but was largely felt to be appropriate for the booklet's purpose.
Many respondents found it difficult to find their way around the booklet, and some of the content appeared to be presented in an illogical order, which meant that some information was missed. The layout of the booklet was not particularly visually appealing, and certain layout features appeared to increase readers' comprehension difficulties. On being shown an alternative layout for the booklet, respondents identified several features which would increase the booklet's attractiveness and comprehensibility.
Recommendations
By investigating responses to the booklet in the context of jurors' actual experiences and the perceptions and attitudes of prospective. jurors, it was possible both to assess the booklet in detail and also to explore the broader issue of information provision for jurors.
The SCS booklet appears to serve an important function preparing prospective jurors for jury service., and in its current form appears to be reasonably effective. However, only a minority of prospective jurors are motivated to read the booklet in full, partly because they are interested largely in practical information and partly because they are deterred by the booklet's perceived length and complexity. This, combined with some of the comprehension difficulties and perceived inaccuracies in the content reported above, suggests that there is room for improvement.
Specifically, the following changes could be made:
  • Revision of sections which are difficult to understand.
  • Revision of sections which are felt to be misleading.
  • More acknowledgement of personal and subjective. aspects of being a juror
  • Removal of material which is redundant or of limited value.
  • Simplification of language and style.
  • Restructuring of material to make booklet more accessible.
  • Consider changes to layout and presentation.
The research also identified some broader changes which could be made to increase the potential effectiveness of the information currently provided to jurors:
  • Produce different booklets for different aspects of jury service: one covering the practical information needed by cited jurors prior to attending court, and the second covering the educational information about jurors' role. during the trial. Alternatively, split the current booklet into two parts, one for each type of information.
  • Produce booklets for each court containing more tailored and individual information than in the present versions of the booklet.
  • Ensure consistent mechanisms for distributing information to prospective jurors.
  • Develop other information mechanisms such as improved signage, increased personal contact at the entrance. to court buildings and in the courtroom itself, and videos and posters in the jury room.
"Information Needs of Scottish Jurors", the research report summarised in this Research Findings, may be purchased (price £5 per copy).
Cheques should be made payable to The Stationery Office and addressed to:
The Stationery Office Ltd, Mail Order Department, 71 Lothian Road, Edinburgh, EH3 9AZ.

Telephone: 0131 228 4181 Fax: 0131 622 7017

The report can also be ordered online from:www.thestationeryoffice.co.uk

This Research Findings may be photocopied, or further copies may be obtained from:
The Scottish Office Central Research Unit
Room J1-0,
Saughton House
Edinburgh EH11 3AX
Tel No: 0131 244 2114