Recently, there have been several programmes highlighting issues with the jury system.  In the US there was Jury Duty (Heller, 2023), a reality hoax series about jury service.  In this programme, all jurors, witnesses, attorneys and even the judge are actors, except for one juror, Ronald Gladden who thinks he is serving on a real jury trial.  Although comedic, this programme highlights issues within the US jury system and jury decision-making more generally.

In the UK, The Jury: Murder Trial, was shown on Channel 4 (Shapira, 2024).  Unlike Jury Duty, this was a dramatisation of a real, anonymised murder case with two real juries (classified as red and blue) trying the case.  Neither jury was aware of one another in order to investigate whether they both reached the same verdict.  The programme reiterated that little is known about jury decision making. This is not helped by restrictions imposed by s.8 of the Contempt of Court Act, 1981.  Under this act, jurors are forbidden from talking about their deliberations and research inside the jury room is forbidden meaning jury decision-making processes are shrouded in secrecy (Curley et. al., 2022; Salerno & Diamond, 2010; Sprain & Gastil, 2017). 

In the programme, it was evident how the individual decision quickly became a collective one, and how the group dynamic plays a crucial role in the decision-making processes, for example, the influence of strong personalities on the group.  The programme also highlighted how difficult the role of the jury is, and the cognitive and emotional toll it takes on jurors.  In particular, it demonstrated the dissonance in how they felt they should make the decision according to legal instruction, versus how they would like to make the decision according to their feelings or intuition.  It also demonstrated how much of the decision was influenced by their own schemas and experiences, for example, one juror told the group how he threw a plate at his wife during an argument, showing how someone could lose their self-control.  Additionally, it demonstrated the role of emotion in making the verdict decision.  Feelings toward the defendant were portrayed by jurors who said things like, ‘I feel sorry for him’, and also towards the victim, which were often more negative and demonstrated victim blame, e.g., ‘she was goading him’.  Even feelings toward the other witnesses and barristers played a role in the decision of murder or manslaughter in this case.

Although we only see a snapshot of the data/footage in these television programmes, they do highlight issues with juries that could affect fairness, and how we need to know much more about the collective decision-making processes of the jury.

My PhD research explores the group decision-making processes of the jury, and I have found similarities with these programmes, particularly The Jury: Murder Trial.  I also used an anonymised murder case, and two mock juries that were present for the trial and who then deliberated to reach a verdict.  These juries were not run simultaneously but on two separate occasions. My research aims to explore how the jury reach a verdict, and how the group itself i.e., interpersonal processes, group dynamics, effect or influence that decision making.

I found that the juries in my research also based their decisions on their own experiences, schemas, and values.  They very quickly became a decision making group rather than a set of individuals, and although minority members conformed to the majority with very little questioning or argument, they did not recognise the influence of the group on this change of decision.  Despite being in a mock jury and knowing that there were no real consequences of their decision making, I also found that jurors struggled psychologically and emotionally with their decision.  They mentioned the discomfort between how they were meant to make the decision and how they actually felt the decision should go, i.e., they were instructed to make the decision objectively on the evidence presented, but felt that the defendant was actually guilty.  Both groups did find the defendant ‘not guilty’ despite him being charged with murder in the real trial. 

These kinds of findings, both in the Channel 4 programme, and in my research, are worrying as jurors show that they are not objective decision makers, but base their decisions on feelings, existing schemas, and the influence of the group itself.

Sarah Lloyd

Sarah Lloyd is a Lecturer in Forensic Psychology at the University of WorcesterShe is a member of the Trauma & Violence Prevention research theme within the Interpersonal Relationships  Wellbeing Research Group. Sarah is interested in how the jury collectively reach their verdict decision and the group processes involved in this. Sarah’s PhD explores this topic in the context of a murder trial. Further details of Sarah’s work can be found at