A perennial favourite theme for British and American authors, playwrights, and film makers is the Court Room Drama. We have all held our breath as the Jury of 12 men and women return to the Court Room to deliver their verdict at the end of the proceedings.
Here in Spain the Jury system functions quite differently. Whether out of academic interest or for those who have the misfortune to be facing serious criminal charges, or as witnesses in a criminal case, it is helpful to know how the Spanish system works as regulated by the Ley Organica 5/1995 as amended.
As one would expect the principal types of serious offence for which trial by Jury is available are Homicide, making threats of serious physical harm, burglary, arson, bribery, fraud, and several more listed in the Spanish Criminal Code.
Unlike an English jury which consists of 12 people, a Spanish jury consists of 9 men and women. They are drawn from the register of Spanish citizens compiled in each district in September of each year. All jurors must be adults, in good health, literate, and resident in the area in which the alleged offence took place. Jurors can apply to be excused on grounds of age if they over the age of 75, ill health, if they have family or professional commitments, and if they have served on a jury during the previous 4 years. There is a long list of people who are disqualified from serving on a jury ranging from the King down through members of the Spanish Parliament, the Cortes, various provincial politicians and office holders and serving members of the Spanish armed forces.
In addition to the 9 men and women summoned to serve on the Jury, during the whole period of the trial and their deliberations they have the assistance of a Magistrate who is a professional member of the local judiciary. The Magistrate´s role is to advise the jury on the law, seek any clarifications needed from the Court, the prosecution, or the defence, and at the end of the jury´s deliberations to prepare a detailed written verdict based on their findings.
The principal task of the 9 members of the jury is to decide whether the prosecution has proved each fact in the case against the accused.
As in the USA and England the jury carry out their deliberations in secret, but in Spain they are accompanied by the Magistrate allocated to them. The jury´s first duty is to elect a spokesman or foreman. The law expressly states that in all matters must be decided by the jury by a vote of each of them in turn to avoid one member railroading the others into a decision.
In England the jury must either bring in a unanimous verdict, or if directed by the judge they can decide on the guilt or innocence of the accused by a majority of 10 to 2. A Spanish jury always has the right to decide on guilt or innocence by a majority vote. The presumption of innocence is enshrined in this process as a guilty verdict requires a majority of 7 to 2, but an innocent verdict only requires a majority of 5 to 4. To attempt to try a person twice for the same offence has been seen as an infringement the rights to be tried according to due process of law contained in Article 24 of the Spanish Constitution, but this view may be changing in Spain as it has done recently in the UK.
If you do find yourself facing criminal charges of any sort always seek legal advice and remember that if you do not already have a lawyer the Court will appoint a lawyer to represent you. In addition, if you are required to act as a witness in a case it can also be helpful to take legal advice before providing written statements or attending Court.