The Trial: A Murder in the Family
Nick Holt and Kath Mattock's experimental crime drama, The Trial: A Murder in the Family, rocked Britain this past week with its intriguing concept and compelling story. Channel 4's new show sought to understand how a jury of 12 strangers decides on the fate of an accused murderer. The experiment used a real judge and barristers to conduct a fictions murder trial for 12 real jurors. The ending shocked the nation, but it also shook one of the oldest traditions in the world.
The show dredged up one of the most pressing questions regarding our legal system: how trustworthy is the jury? This experiment was vital in order to show the process and consideration a jury goes through when they are under the unimaginable pressure of a unanimous verdict. This pseudo-documentary showed, quite blatantly, the flaws in the jury system, without giving much hope to this sacred tradition. But what is most striking about the finale is Holt and Mattock lack of a solution to improving this clearly pressing problem. Sometimes (I think particularly in this case) raising the questions and highlighting the problems won't be enough to see a change. A solution needs to be presented in order for people to really grasp how this problem affects democracy and liberty.
But what this program did highlight was, I think, the biggest reason why the jury system fails: reasonable doubt. How can you convict someone when surely, if the defense is doing their job, there will always be reasonable doubt. The way the case was presented, there clearly was reasonable doubt. I had my mind made up regarding the guilt or innocence of Simon based on what I thought was the most prominent evidence. If I were on that jury, I would have believed I was making the most accurate and clear-minded decision; I didn't make a decision based on gut instinct or any unease I felt. But watching the jury deliberate, it was clear that biases and emotion played a major role in some of the decisions made. Is it right to convict an innocent man of murder simply because one has a gut instinct? Is it right to free a guilty man because one has an ounce doubt about the case?
Although I still believe the experiment was flawed by the jury knowing the case was fictional, The Trial: A Murder in the Family was an innovative drama which highlighted the fatalistic flaws in one of democracy's greatest cornerstone.
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