Democracy, epistemology and the problem of all-white juries
Prof. Annabelle Lever (Université de Genève)

part of: Critical Philosophy of Race: Here and Now
June 5, 2014, 9:00am - 9:30am
Institute of Philosophy, School of Advanced Study, University of London

Room G22/26, Senate House
Malet Street
London WC1E 7HU
United Kingdom

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  • Institute of Philosophy
  • Institute of Commonwealth Studies
  • Aristotelian Society
  • Mind Association
  • Analysis Trust
  • UCL Department of Philosophy
  • UCL Joint Faculty Institute of Graduate Studies
  • UCL Race Equality Steering Group


Nathaniel Adam Tobias Coleman
University College London

Topic areas


Democracy, epistemology and the problem of all-white juries (Lever)

This paper draws on recent work in democratic theory and the philosophy of race to argue that the way juries are currently selected in England and Wales should be modified to ensure that they more adequately represent racial minorities, as well as other disadvantaged social groups.  At present juries outside London are very likely to have no members from racial or ethnic minorities, even in cities with significant minority populations.  This appears to be the unintended and undesired effect of several factors, and to illustrate the ways in which seemingly fair and impartial procedures can reproduce historical disadvantages, and generate new patterns of exclusion and marginalisation.  

Drawing on Cheryl Thomas' interesting reports on juries, for the Ministry of Justice, this paper shows that current forms of jury selection in England and Wales are hard to square with democratic conceptions of justice, whether or not they are less likely to produce fair decisions than juries that more adequately reflected the racial and ethnic diversity of our society.  Thomas' findings provide heartening evidence that all-white juries do not discriminate against non-white defendants and victims of crime. However, her studies raise the question whether it would not be better to replace rather than to reform juries, given the extent to which bias against white victims and defendants of crime appears to infect most juries, and the perplexing and pervasive ways in which race affects individuals' judgements of guilt and innocence. In the face of the more troubling aspects of Thomas' reports, I will show that racially-mixed juries are likely to produce less arbitrary outcomes than those which lack minority members, although evidence at this point is suggestive, rather than definitive.  Thus, this paper concludes, the reasons to revise current forms of jury selection are not purely procedural.  Rather, they reflect the ways in which more descriptively representative juries are likely to improve our judgements of justice, just as more descriptively representative legislatures improve judgement about the common good. 


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