Jury Nullification

Patricia Tabram is in Carlisle Crown Court today charged with growing and possessing cannabis for personal use. She's 68, a grandmother, uses the drug to relieve pain and she's defending herself. She's admitted the facts but has pleaded not guilty.

She's hoping that the Jury knows that they have the power of jury nullification. (Jury Equity here in the UK). That's the ancient power of a jury to judge the law as bad rather than the defendent and bring back a 'not guilty' verdict (or a hung jury) even where it flies in the face of the evidence.

Typically, a judge won't tell the jury of this power and inisist that they only consider the facts of the case.

Furthermore, a judge will typically hold a defendent in contempt if trying to educate the jury of their power.

She just has to hope that they already know.

It doesn't seem the mainstream media is rushing to educate people either - this Sky News report doesn't mention jury nullification, even though it's clearly relevant in this case.

In the UK, where mass protest is largely ignored, voting has little impact, and complaining on the internet does squat, jury nullification is a real power that reasonable people have to reject unreasonable laws. But only if people are aware of it.

Let's hope Patricia Tabram gets lucky and gets a fully informed jury today.


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Posted by Alexander at March 5, 2007 06:06 PM

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Thanks for mentioning this, Alexander. I'm not sure of the history of this counterbalance in the UK, but in the US a "trail by a jury of ones peers" judged all aspects of the case, including the fairness or sanity of the law as passed by the legislature.

Today, though, judges routinely instruct that jurors must follow the letter of the law, and not judge the law itself, during a trial. I'm not sure how they get away with that.

(I've been dismissed from a jury pool when I told the judge that I could not condemn someone for what I considered an unfair piece of legislation.)

More info, from a US perspective, at:


Posted by: John Dowdell at March 5, 2007 07:34 PM

Thanks for the link, JD. Sounds like US jurors face more scrutiny to ensure they are not fully informed! I'm not sure how that differs from stacking the jury.

I've never been selected for jury service, but I understand that here in the UK jurors are simply asked "Can you give a fair hearing to both the crown and the defense?" - I think I'd be able answer in the affirmitive and still fulfill all my duties as a juror.

Posted by: Alexander McCabe at March 6, 2007 12:51 PM

I was amazed to recently discover of Jury Equity / Jury Nullification - amazed that Jurors are not informed of their Legal Right to effectively way judgment on the Law as well as any alleged crime being judged.

It strikes me that this is one tool that absolutely MUST remain law, and additionally that Jurors MUST be informed of prior to them sitting on a Jury, after all, Jurors are often told to reach a verdict based upon the UK Law, whilst not being told that the UK Law also allows them to reach a verdict of NOT GUILTY on the grounds of the Law itself being flawed.

How can a trial by Jury be legally fair, if the Jury is not aware of their own legal rights?

Posted by: Anonymous at May 20, 2007 10:46 AM