A jury trial
, or trial by jury
, is a legal proceeding
in which a jury makes a decision or findings of fact, which then direct the actions of a judge. It is distinguished from a bench trial in which a judge or panel of judges makes all decisions.
Jury trials are used in a significant share of serious criminal cases in almost all common law legal systems (Singapore, for example, is a significant exception), and juries or lay judges have been incorporated into the legal systems of many civil law countries for criminal cases. Only the United States makes routine use of jury trials in a wide variety of non-criminal cases. Other common law legal jurisdictions use jury trials only in a very select class of cases that make up a tiny share of the overall civil docket (like defamation suits in England and Wales), but true civil jury trials are almost entirely absent elsewhere in the world. Some civil law jurisdictions, however, have arbitration panels where non-legally trained members decide cases in select subject-matter areas relevant to the arbitration panel members' areas of expertise.
The availability of a trial by jury in American jurisdictions varies. Because the United States legal system
separated from that of the English one at American Revolution, the types of proceedings that use juries depends on whether such cases were tried by jury under English common law at that time rather than the methods used in English courts now. For example, at the time, English "courts of law" tried cases of torts or private law
for monetary damages using juries, but "courts of equity" that tried civil cases seeking an injunction or another form of non-monetary relief did not. As a result, this practice continues in American civil laws, but in modern English law, only criminal proceedings and some inquests are likely to be heard by a jury.
The use of jury trials, which evolved within common law systems rather than civil law systems, has had a profound impact on the nature of American civil procedure
and criminal procedure
rules, even if a bench trial is actually contemplated in a particular case. In general, the availability of a jury trial if properly demanded has given rise to a system in which fact finding
is concentrated in a single trial rather than multiple hearings, and appellate review of trial court
decisions is greatly limited. Jury trials are of far less importance (or of no importance) in countries that do not have a common law system.