Professor Cheryl Thomas QC (Hon) has recently been
appointed as the first Dean of Inner Temple, with the task of advising and
assisting ‘in developing new courses and activities for established members of
the profession’. It is part of the Inn’s 2022 Vision of lifelong education for
all its practitioner members, self-employed and employed; in London and on
Hearing her describe the project which is still in early
days, I was reminded of the forgotten words of Tim Dutton QC when Chairman of
the Bar in 2008, that the Inns should be the centre of lifelong learning, ‘a
vibrant, university-like organisation, with the involvement of judges,
practitioners, and senior academics’.
That pretty much sums up what Cheryl is setting out to do
now. Inner Temple has at least explicitly taken on board the similar and
similarly unfulfilled vision of Sir Alan Moses, expressed in 2012:
‘Participation by every advocate, barrister or solicitor, together in regular
and sustained courses, in which all the Inns should take the lead and in which
those of different experience and the judges participate.’
Meeting with her in October, it quickly becomes clear why
Cheryl is so well suited for the task.
She arrives at it via a somewhat unpredictable career path.
Born in Massachusetts, she gained a degree in political science. She worked in
Washington DC as a researcher and policy advisor for the National [State]
Governors’ Association. She left to do an MPhil at Oxford. ‘I was interested in
a wider political perspective,’ she says. Although her dissertation related to
the work she had done about federalism, states’ rights and interest groups in
the American political process, she switched to studying Supreme Court decision-making
concerning these issues for her DPhil (PhD) at Oxford.
In the American system, both political scientists and
academic lawyers study judges, courts and judicial decisions. That, however,
‘was just not an Oxford thing’. English universities teach jurisprudence, which
is different. That is about what judges ought to do, not what they in fact do.
She moved on to a DPhil but there were no jobs ‘in respect of the kind of work
I was interested in’. For several years, she had parallel careers, taking on consultancies
and research but also being a documentary film maker.
“One of the important changes is to engage with established barristers, most of whom have drifted away from participation in the Inn”
She joined the Laws Faculty at University College London in
2007, becoming in due course its first Professor of Judicial Studies and
director of its Jury Project and Judicial Institute. A significant moment came
when the Lord Chancellor asked her to do a large study which became Diversity
and Fairness in the Jury System (2007). Previous reports touching on juries
relied on anecdotes (with the exception of Michael Zander’s Crown Court Study for
the Runciman Commission). Cheryl changed all that. She was allowed to include
in every jury summons sent out in England and Wales a personal profile
demographic questionnaire which people were asked to return with their
acknowledgement to the summons. Almost all did so. Because each summons had a
bar code, she was able, anonymously, to trace what happened throughout the
process – whether the person returned the summons, whether they turned up at
court, whether they actually sat on a panel. All this was analysed in the
context of the national census. Since both the census and jury summonses were
based on post codes, ‘I could do a population profile of each Crown Court juror
summoning area.’ Looking at gender, ethnicity, age, income and religion, she
established that jurors were ‘remarkably representative’ of the local
population, which is the relevant criterion. ‘It means that we have this random
selection system and it represents representative pools of people.’ She also
established that people did not routinely try to avoid service; the
non-repliers tended to come from areas of highest residential mobility, so the
summons probably never got to them. The report was officially launched with the
Lord Chancellor and Trevor Phillips, Chairman of the then Commission for Racial
For this Cheryl filmed a trial simulation of an actual
case, using a real judge and advocates. Versions differed but only in terms of
the ethnicity of the defendant and the complainant. A film was shown at court
to people who had just finished their jury service. They were asked to return a
verdict. The result? Ethnicity did not affect the decision making. Jurors do
not convict BAME defendants more than they do white defendants.
The next big research project, Are Juries Fair? (February
2010) took matters further. Cheryl focused on decision-making by all-white
juries in relation to BAME defendants, and examined wider issues about jury
fairness: do jury conviction rates differ significantly by offence, is there a
postcode lottery in jury trials, how aware are jurors of media coverage of
‘This was the start of my analysis of all jury verdicts in
England and Wales.’ The Ministry of Justice maintains a system (CREST) in which
every outcome, starting with charge, is entered. Using case numbers only,
Cheryl is able to ascertain offence, plea, when a plea was changed, the outcome
of the hearing, age and ethnicity of defendant, and the offence. ‘I am able
authoritatively to say this is every single case that has been in the crown
court for the last 10 years.’ Unfortunately, there is no comparable Ministry of
Justice system for the magistrates’ court. When David Lammy MP began his work
on the review of BAME representation in the criminal justice system, he started
with an online questionnaire which said, in part, ‘We know that juries are more
likely to convict a non-white defendant.’ Cheryl contacted his team to explain
that we do not in fact know that and that the opposite is true. She was asked
to assist and produced the statistics which proved that while BAME defendants
are in fact over-represented in crown court trials there is no significant
difference in jury conviction rates based on the race of the defendant.
“During a barrister’s career, new problems arise. So the Inn decided to revise and radically change the [ethics] course. One of the guiding principles is, of course, empirical evidence”
Cheryl acknowledges that myth busting is ‘challenging’. She
cites other examples of beliefs that are contrary to empirical evidence. A
major problem is making sure people know the truth. The launch of Diversity and
Fairness in the Jury System ‘was a managed release of information, but nowadays
[information] is coming out all the time’.
Her involvement in judicial studies led her to embark on
the first ever survey of judges’ working lives. No one had ever asked the
judiciary these questions before. Her inaugural lecture at UCL, ‘Purple Haze:
The Danger of being in the Dark about Judges’ led to Inner Temple asking her to
become an Honorary Bencher. ‘I find that with non-barristers, their awareness
of what an Inn of Court and what a Bencher is, is “cloudy”. So there is good
public education to do there.’
As a Bencher she served on the education and training
committee. Although she admires the amount of time which barristers donate to
advocacy training she is also aware that there is inconsistency in delivery but
that consistency in training would not be a popular option. Indeed, anyone who
is familiar with Inns’ advocacy knows that each Inn does its own thing with its
own case studies, believing that their courses are the best.
Cheryl has dealt with the issues through her involvement in
a new approach in Inner Temple in how to teach ethics to new practitioners.
‘Ethics is not a textbook thing,’ she said. During a barrister’s career, new
problems arise. So the Inn decided to revise and radically change the course.
One of the guiding principles is, of course, empirical evidence. ‘You can’t
know if your ethics course is working unless you know what your new
practitioners know before the course begins.’
There are three stages. The first is preparation: advance
reading and thinking. Stage two is a face-to-face ethical dilemma (including a
plenary session for all new practitioners and then smaller specialist group
sessions). This creates the base line of what the young barrister is thinking.
‘There is a right answer, though we choose a scenario with a conflict between
rules and core principles. The use of anonymous voting prompts good discussions
and the new practitioners said they were more willing to speak up because “I
could see others thought the same way”.’ In stage two, the delegates are
divided into groups based on specialism for discussion. The materials are
designed so that an Inn trainer could step into the course and deliver it as
consistently as any other.
Subsequently, stage 3 is an online assessment, where
barristers are presented with other scenarios. One is then able to compare what
the new practitioner thought in stage one and what they think now; in other
words, how well the training has improved their thinking. That’s as far as it
can go since the Inn cannot impose a requirement in the course that new
practitioners attain a certain level of ethical skills in order to satisfy the
regulatory rules for ethical training at this stage.
All this is preparation for the role of Dean. The idea for
such an office arose from the major, strategic review of the Inn’s role in 2017
which produced the 2022 Vision. One of the important changes is to engage with
established barristers, most of whom have drifted away from participation in
the Inn. ‘My job is to identify how Inner Temple is to find out what the needs
are and then to decide how the Inn can help.’ The Inner Temple Established
Barrister Survey will be run and analysed next year, when they plan to better
understand the demands on the working lives of established barristers and how
the Inn can best assist. In other words, proceeding, as Cheryl always does, on
an evidence basis.
This led us finally to a discussion of whether training in
the Inn really fulfils its function. No one is formally assessed. I used as an
example the changes in how vulnerable witnesses and defendants are treated at
court. Barristers are taught the mechanics but it is clear from appeals brought
to the Court of Appeal that some don’t believe it; they insist that to restrict
their cross-examination results in an unfair trial. ‘Who are the gatekeepers?’
Cheryl asked. ‘The judiciary has to be a gatekeeper of advocacy’ but there
isn’t only one gatekeeper. She identifies as well the Court of Appeal,
chambers, specialist Bar associations, Inns of Court and Bar Council.
This seemed an optimistic view but Cheryl has seen dramatic
change. In 2010 she recommended that written directions to the jury would be
helpful. She was told then that it would never happen – counsel won’t agree,
and judges don’t have the time. Now the Court of Appeal says that they cannot
think of a case, however simple, where the jury would not be so helped.
Attitudes do change, and she hopes that those who resist change are more the
In addition, Cheryl has turned her mind to a review of the
academic fellows’ programme, a public education programme about the Inns and
Inner Temple, and perhaps most important in our times, the Inn’s role in
promoting the rule of law.
‘Let there be Academies of Excellence,’ Sir Alan declared
in 2012. If Cheryl Thomas has anything to do about it, there will be.
Professor Cheryl Thomas QC (Hon) is Professor of Judicial
Studies in the UCL Faculty of Laws, Director of the UCL Jury Project and
Co-Director of the UCL Judicial Institute.
Professor Thomas has served as a
specialist consultant on judicial affairs to a wide range of official bodies
including the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, Lord Chancellor, UK
Ministry of Justice, Judicial College, Law Commission, Crown Prosecution
Service, the Judiciaries of Scotland and Northern Ireland, European Commission
and other international organisations and governments. In 2012 she was elected
Academic Master of the Bench of Inner Temple. In 2017 she was appointed Queen’s
Counsel Honoris Causa.
She is also a documentary maker and has produced
programmes for the BBC, Channel 4, ITV, Discovery and PSB. Professor Thomas
holds a DPhil and MPhil from Oxford University and BA from Syracuse University.
Professor Thomas’ research includes Diversity & Fairness in the Jury System
2007; Are Juries Fair? 2010; UK Judicial Attitude Survey 2014 and 2016; the UK Supreme
Court and Judicial Committee of the Privy Council Database Project and a
foundational empirical study of tribunal decision-making.
Her current jury
research examines the impact of the digital courtroom, the impact of special
measures for vulnerable witnesses, whether jurors believe myths and stereotypes
in some cases, how to prevent juror misconduct, how to improve jury
deliberations and how best to provide support for jurors during and after