At the end of a court case, everybody wants to hear what the jury has to say.
Our legal system hinges on the ‘12 good men and true'. Their words can send an accused to heaven or to hell. But in WA, any words from jurors other than "guilty" or "not guilty" are closely guarded by the State Government.
It took Judith Fordham, Perth barrister and Associate Professor in the Centre for Forensic Science, two-and-a-half years to get permission to talk to jurors for her PhD research on juries and forensic science.
Now, after she has completed the work, a change of government means that she is fighting again for permission for her work to be published in full.
"It's so frustrating. I've spend hundreds of hours talking to jurors and they want to tell their stories," A/Professor Fordham said.
Her first degree was in science; later she studied law as a mature-age student. "As a criminal lawyer, I realised I needed to know a lot more about forensics, so I did the graduate diploma program at the Centre for Forensic Science. They asked me if I would like to do a Masters and a PhD and I thought that jurors and their experience with forensic evidence was an area that needed some research."
Meanwhile, the previous State government's Attorney-General, Jim McGinty, asked A/Professor Fordham if she would look at jury intimidation while doing her research.
She sent out a survey to jury members and a staggering 1,000 replied, despite the survey being 24 pages long.
"That shows you how keen they are to talk about their experiences," she said. "And more than half of them said they wanted me to interview them. It's a world first in terms of the numbers of people involved and the quality of their responses. The jurors I've interviewed have had enormously interesting experiences. But, unfortunately, the study has run out of money, so it's at a standstill too."
Her unique experience as a barrister, a student of juries and a forensic science specialist has put A/Professor Fordham in demand as a teacher. She has run classes and courses to teach police officers about forensic science; to help lawyers to handle forensic evidence; to train forensic scientists how to handle themselves in court; and to teach lawyers about how jurors respond to scientific forensic evidence.
"Next year I hope to run a full postgraduate diploma in forensic science for non-scientists, through the Centre," she said.
The Police in Western Australia have committed to sending her 20 students a year for a similar but shorter postgraduate certificate.
"I had not done any teaching before, but I love it. It's not very different from standing in a court and talking to jurors, explaining things to them," she said.
From her work on intimidation of jurors, A/Professor Fordham said the most important recommendation was that all juries should have a professional facilitator.
"The most significant form of intimidation of jurors comes not from the judge or the barristers, but from within the jury," she said.
"A trained facilitator would be able to nip any intimidation in the bud. He or she could keep the jury members on track and ensure that everybody had a say. Juries can function very poorly if there is nobody who has experience in running a meeting. A facilitator could help here too."
She said jurors were generally better-educated than she thought they would be. "About 20 per cent of them have had a tertiary education, contrary to most people's ideas about juries."
She said that amid the constant debate about the jury system in the western world, Japan, South Korea and Kazakhstan were all preparing to bring juries into their legal systems.
Published in UWA News, 28 June 2010.