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Asking the right questions: examining the utility of fact based jury directions using a simulated trial paradigm
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posted on 27.02.2017by Spivak, Benjamin Luke
No studies to date have considered the effectiveness of fact-based directions relative to
other enhanced forms of directions in terms of comprehension and application of legal principles.
Furthermore, little is known about the effects of fact-based directions in realistic simulated jury settings. The research project sought to compare four forms of instructions: (1) standard; (2) plain language; (3) checklist; (4) fact-based in terms of comprehension and application of legal concepts.
The research project utilised a sample of 1007 adults who had been called for jury service
in the Victorian County and Supreme Courts over a twelve month period. Participants were tested
in groups of 10-12 and engaged in a realistic one day simulated trial including deliberation.
Testing of participants occurred at three time points- pre-trial, pre-deliberation, and where time allowed, at post-deliberation. Results indicated that comprehension of directions was significantly higher in all modified (plain language, checklist, fact-based) instructional types compared to standard instructions at the pre-deliberation stage of trial. Findings around application of law were mixed. At the pre-deliberation stage, participants receiving fact-based instructions had significantly higher scores on true/false application questions compared with participants in other conditions at the pre-deliberation stage, whereas there were no significant differences between conditions for multiple choice application. However, opportunistic testing of a limited number of participants following deliberation revealed that participants in the fact-based condition had significantly higher scores on multiple-choice application items.
The results support previous findings on plain language instructions and comprehension and support the use of revisions such as checklists, question-trails and restructuring of the charge more generally. Participants provided with fact-based directions scored better on tests of comprehension than participants receiving standard instructions. Participants provided with fact-based directions also scored significantly higher on tests of true/false application than participants in all other conditions. Finally, instruction type was found to interact with deliberation, with participants receiving fact-based directions scoring far higher than participants in all other conditions at the post-deliberation