June 18, 2009 MP’s in the U.K. are being dragged over the coals in the wake of the expenses scandal and the court of public opinion is united in this verdict. However, for issues that are less black and white, the current legal system relies on the moral compass of each individual jury. This method could be viewed more as a lottery than an infallible system of justice.
To investigate this claim, top criminal lawyers from Brunel University, Dr. Stefan Fafinski and Dr. Emily Finch, have created the Honesty Lab – an online study devised to try and establish if the standard test for dishonesty used to convict criminals in England and Wales, based on the attitudes of each individual jury, is in fact flawed.
The results of this study hope to establish how much perceptions of dishonesty vary from person to person and jury to jury and could help to end the current ‘lottery’ of trial by jury for some criminal defendants. As the law offers no definition of dishonesty, it relies on the moral compass of the members of the jury to decipher wrong-doing.
The project was launched in partnership with the British Science Association and sponsored by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). To enter, visit http://www.honestylab.com. Your morality will be tested to the limit as you view a selection of video clips and rate whether or not they are dishonest. And if listening to everyone else’s misdemeanours leaves you feeling penitent, get it off your chest in our rogue’s gallery confessional.
Dr. Stefan Fafinski comments: ‘There were around two million recorded crimes involving dishonesty in 2008, so the findings from Honesty Lab in evaluating the fairness of the current test in criminal law will be of major public importance and could alter the way judicial trials are conducted.’
Dr. Emily Finch comments: “We believe that the Honesty Lab project will prove that public attitudes to dishonesty are shaped by the varying personal traits of defendants, jurors and magistrates, suggesting that whether or not a person is convicted of an offence involving dishonesty, such as theft, could be somewhat of a lottery under current criminal law. For example, in April 2002, a man was convicted of theft after collecting over a thousand lost golf balls from a lake on a golf course using scuba diving equipment. It is entirely possible that another jury on another day would have decided that this was not dishonest and he would have been acquitted.”
The findings from Honesty Lab will be presented at the British Science Festival, taking place in Guildford on September 8, 2009.
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