Define: Traverse Jury

Traverse Jury
Traverse Jury
Quick Summary of Traverse Jury

A traverse jury, also known as a petit jury or trial jury, is a group of individuals selected by the law to determine the guilt or innocence of a defendant in a specific case. They carefully consider the evidence presented in court before reaching a verdict. It is important to note that traverse juries are distinct from other types of juries, such as grand juries, which investigate crimes, or advisory juries, which offer guidance but do not have the authority to make the final decision.

What is the dictionary definition of Traverse Jury?
Dictionary Definition of Traverse Jury

A traverse jury, also known as a petit jury or trial jury, is a group of individuals chosen in accordance with the law to determine matters of fact and deliver a verdict in a specific case. In criminal trials, a traverse jury is assembled to listen to the evidence presented by both the prosecution and defence and then determine the guilt or innocence of the defendant. Unlike other types of juries, such as grand juries or advisory juries, the traverse jury’s role is not to decide whether charges should be brought or to provide a non-binding opinion to the judge.

Full Definition Of Traverse Jury

A traverse jury, more commonly known simply as a jury, is a fundamental component of the legal systems in many common law jurisdictions, including the United Kingdom. This detailed overview will explore the historical origins, the composition, the role, the selection process, and the significance of the traverse jury in the British legal system. Additionally, it will consider the challenges and criticisms faced by the institution and recent reforms aimed at improving its function.

Historical Origins

The concept of the jury has deep historical roots, dating back to ancient Greece and Rome, but it is the Anglo-Saxon tradition that significantly shaped its modern form. The modern British jury system evolved from early medieval practices, notably from the Assizes of Clarendon in 1166 and the Magna Carta in 1215. These documents established the right to trial by one’s peers as a cornerstone of justice, setting the stage for the jury’s pivotal role in the legal process.

Composition and Structure

Jury Size and Composition

In the United Kingdom, a standard criminal jury is composed of twelve members. This number, steeped in tradition, is believed to offer a balance between diverse viewpoints and efficient deliberation. In civil cases, the jury may be smaller, typically consisting of eight members, though the use of juries in civil trials is less common today.

Eligibility and Selection

Jurors are selected from the electoral register, ensuring a broad cross-section of society. To be eligible, individuals must be between the ages of 18 and 75, be registered to vote, and have lived in the UK for at least five years since the age of 13. Certain individuals, such as those with recent serious criminal convictions or certain mental health conditions, are disqualified from serving.

The Role of the Traverse Jury

Determining Facts

The primary role of the jury is to determine the facts of the case. This involves listening to the evidence presented by both the prosecution and the defence, evaluating the credibility of witnesses, and interpreting the physical evidence. Jurors must weigh this information impartially and apply the law as instructed by the judge.

Delivering a Verdict

After deliberation, the jury delivers a verdict of “guilty” or “not guilty” in criminal cases, or a finding for the plaintiff or defendant in civil cases. The verdict must be unanimous, although in some cases, a majority verdict (typically 10-2) may be accepted if unanimity cannot be reached after prolonged deliberation.

The Jury Selection Process

Summoning and Vetting

Potential jurors receive a summons requiring their attendance at court. Upon arrival, they undergo a vetting process, which may include basic background checks to ensure eligibility. Both the prosecution and defence have limited rights to challenge potential jurors, either for cause (with a reason) or peremptorily (without giving a reason).

Voir Dire

Although less common in the UK than in some other jurisdictions, a voir dire process may be used in high-profile or complex cases. This involves questioning potential jurors to uncover any biases or preconceptions that might affect their impartiality.

The Importance of the Traverse Jury

Ensuring Fairness and Impartiality

One of the core principles of the jury system is that it ensures a fair trial by peers, free from governmental or judicial influence. The diversity of a jury is intended to bring various perspectives to the deliberation process, reducing the risk of bias and ensuring that the decision reflects a collective judgement.

Upholding Public Confidence

The presence of a jury helps maintain public confidence in the legal system. It reinforces the notion that justice is administered by ordinary citizens, which can enhance the legitimacy and acceptance of judicial outcomes.

Challenges and Criticisms

Complexity and Understanding

One of the primary criticisms of the jury system is that jurors may struggle to understand complex legal issues or technical evidence. This concern is particularly pronounced in cases involving intricate financial crimes or scientific testimony.

Bias and Prejudice

Despite the efforts to ensure impartiality, jurors may bring their own biases and prejudices into the deliberation room. This can be exacerbated by media coverage or personal experiences, potentially impacting the fairness of the verdict.

Jury Tampering and Intimidation

In some cases, jurors may be subject to tampering or intimidation, especially in trials involving organised crime or other serious offences. This threat can undermine the integrity of the jury’s decision-making process.

Reforms and Improvements

Enhanced Jury Directions

To address issues of complexity, judges now provide more detailed and clearer directions to juries. This includes summarising key evidence, explaining relevant legal principles, and highlighting important points of law.

Pre-Trial Education

In some jurisdictions, there are proposals for pre-trial education programmes to help jurors better understand their roles and the legal process. This might involve briefings on legal terminology, the structure of the trial, and the importance of impartiality.

Alternative Approaches

There are ongoing discussions about alternative approaches to certain types of cases. For example, complex fraud cases might be heard by a panel of judges or experts instead of a jury, to ensure a more informed and technically accurate verdict.

Comparative Perspectives

The Jury System in Other Jurisdictions

Comparing the British jury system to those in other common law jurisdictions, such as the United States or Australia, highlights both similarities and differences. In the United States, for instance, voir dire is a much more extensive process, and the right to a jury trial is enshrined more robustly in the Constitution.

Lessons from Abroad

The British system can learn from reforms and innovations in other countries. For instance, some jurisdictions have experimented with mixed tribunals, combining professional judges and lay jurors, to balance legal expertise with public participation.


The traverse jury remains a cornerstone of the British legal system, embodying principles of fairness, impartiality, and public participation. While it faces challenges, including the complexity of modern cases and the potential for bias, ongoing reforms and innovations aim to address these issues. By ensuring that jurors are well-informed and supported, the jury system can continue to play a vital role in delivering justice.


  • Historical Development of Juries in the UK: This source provides a detailed account of the evolution of the jury system from medieval times to the present day.
  • The Role of Juries in the Criminal Justice System: This document explores the functions and significance of juries in criminal trials, including their impact on public confidence.
  • Challenges Facing Modern Juries: This article discusses contemporary issues such as juror comprehension, bias, and the influence of media.
  • Reforms in the Jury System: This source outlines recent reforms aimed at improving jury directions, pre-trial education, and alternative approaches for complex cases.
  • Comparative Analysis of Jury Systems: This study compares the British jury system with those in other common law jurisdictions, highlighting differences in procedure and practice.
Traverse Jury FAQ'S

A traverse jury is a group of individuals selected from the community to hear evidence and decide the outcome of a criminal trial.

A traverse jury is responsible for determining guilt or innocence in a criminal trial, while a grand jury decides whether there is enough evidence to bring charges against a defendant.

Jurors are typically selected randomly from a pool of eligible individuals within the jurisdiction where the trial is taking place.

There are certain circumstances where individuals may be excused from jury duty, such as if they have a valid reason that prevents them from serving or if they have a conflict of interest in the case.

The length of a traverse jury trial can vary depending on the complexity of the case, but it can range from a few days to several weeks.

The judge presides over the trial, ensures that proper legal procedures are followed, and provides instructions to the jury regarding the law.

In most jurisdictions, a unanimous decision is required for a verdict in a criminal trial. However, some jurisdictions may allow for a majority or supermajority decision.

Yes, if a party believes that there were errors in the trial process or that the verdict was unjust, they can appeal the decision to a higher court.

If a juror becomes biased or is unable to fulfill their duties impartially, they may be dismissed from the jury and replaced with an alternate juror.

Yes, a mistrial may be declared if there are significant errors or irregularities during the trial that prevent a fair and just verdict from being reached. In such cases, the trial may need to be restarted with a new jury.

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This site contains general legal information but does not constitute professional legal advice for your particular situation. Persuing this glossary does not create an attorney-client or legal adviser relationship. If you have specific questions, please consult a qualified attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.

This glossary post was last updated: 6th June 2024.

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