The Public Interest

Juries on trial

Ken I. Kersch

Winter 2003

THE nations of continental Europe, whose civil-law legal systems are structured around logically designed statutory schemes, take pride in the rationality and efficiency of their public regulations and of the governmental institutions that implement them. This is especially true for their systems governing civil injuries, which seek to compensate the injured for the damages they suffer (such as hospital bills and lost wages) and to punish and deter negligent or reckless conduct. These nations rely heavily on bureaucracies to assess penalties and on national health care to fund the costs of injury. Given their emphasis on clear goals and efficient institutions, it is not surprising that civil-law nations do not use juries to decide civil eases of any type, including tort cases, and rarely use juries in criminal cases either. Lay jurors, after all, are untrained, one-shot participants who dive headlong into a bramble of factual, legal, and public policy complexity. They are wild cards, and hence are the enemy of rational, systematic thinking. 

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