Last week the Hillsborough trial involving ex-police officer David Duckenfield ended without reaching a conclusion; a number of papers reported that there was a ‘hung jury’ – so, what does that mean?
In an ideal world, a jury will reach a clear conclusion by either convicting or acquitting the defendant.
In a case with 12 jurors at least 10 must agree on the verdict, so if the numbers fall short, for example, 8 wanting to acquit, 4 wanting to convict, that is not an acceptable verdict.
If the jury indicates that they will not be able to reach a verdict in accordance with the law, the jury will need to be discharged.
In legal terms, this is often referred to as a ‘hung jury’.
What happens next?
The prosecution can apply to have the defendant tried again, and this is the outcome in most cases.
The decision is one for the trial Judge who will consider whether or not it is in the interests of justice for a retrial to take place.
Typically, the court considers questions which include (but are not limited to) whether the alleged offence is sufficiently serious to justify a retrial; whether, if re-convicted, the appellant would be likely to serve a significant period or further period in custody; the appellant’s age and health; and the wishes of the victim of the alleged offence.
If prosecutorial misconduct is alleged then other factors will come into play, analogous with whether it is an abuse of process to allow a retrial.
In most cases, the defence will not be able to properly resist the application, but we would always carefully consider all relevant factors and object if able to.
What happens if a new jury still cannot reach a verdict?
The usual practice in this scenario is for the prosecution to offer no evidence, although there are rare circumstances where a further retrial could take place.