The ABC’s Lateline program recently reported on the startling findings of an Australian-led study into jury bias. The study examined whether the placement of the defendant affected the juror’s perception of the defendant’s guilt or innocence. Shockingly, the study asserts that those kept behind glass plates and in docks are far more likely to receive guilty sentences from a jury of their peers.
The study examines the impartiality of the jury system and the likely effects of perception on the final outcome. Large trials (four hundred or more people) conducted by the University of Western Sydney revealed that sixty per cent of ‘mock jurors’ would deliver a guilty verdict when the defendant was in the glass dock. This contrasted with forty seven per cent for the traditional open dock and the much lower 36 per cent for the bar table (preferred in the USA).
The controlled experiment utilised three ‘mock terrorist’ scenarios within the confines of an actual court in Western Sydney. The trial sought to dispel the myth that jurors are above prejudice, a myth which often results in disastrous miscarriages of justice. Speaking to Lateline, University of Western Sydney researcher David Tait discussed the misconception: “People think they can detect their own prejudices. In fact all the psychology evidence suggests they can’t and you need to do a randomised controlled trial to see how people actually behave as opposed to how they think they behave.”
After providing the ‘mock jurors’ with evidence and case facts, the participants were presented with the defendants in three different physical settings. Mr. Tait discusses the almost uniform results: “The impressions were that the accused was more dangerous, more violent and more threatening in the glass box.”
Speaking to the ABC, Former Supreme Court judge Anthony Whealy discussed the merits of the controversial findings. Having presided over Sydney’s infamous terrorism trial, Mr. Whealy is famous for decreeing that glass docks should only be used in extreme cases. “The judge’s task is to make sure someone gets a fair trial,” he said. “And that involves eliminating or reducing prejudice and bias wherever it’s possible.”
A more detailed brief, including full results, will be presented by the UWS research team in Melbourne this Friday.
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