In English law, a special verdict is a verdict by a jury that makes specific factual conclusions rather than (or in addition to) the jury's declaration of guilt or liability. For example, jurors may write down a specific monetary amount of damages, or a finding of proportionality, in addition to the jury's ultimate finding of liability. In the words of William Blackstone, "The jury state the naked facts, as they find them to be proved, and pray the advice of the court thereon".
The judge forced a special verdict in the famous 1884 case of R v. Dudley and Stephens, which established a precedent that necessity is not a defence to a charge of murder, but generally it is recommended that such verdicts should only be returned in the most exceptional cases.
Special verdict forms are common in civil cases. However, many courts disfavour their use in criminal cases. This is because juries traditionally have the power to issue a one- or two-word general verdict in criminal cases, simply pronouncing a defendant "guilty" or "not guilty." By this means, criminal juries are never required to explain their verdicts. The right to issue a general verdict in criminal cases is thus considered one of the great protections of trial by jury.
Because of the jury's historic function of tempering rules of law by common sense brought to bear upon the facts of a specific case, for this reason Justices Black and Douglas indicated their disapproval of special verdicts even in civil cases.
- Morgan, E. M. (1923) "A brief history of special verdicts", Yale Law Journal, 32:575-592
- Simpson, A. W. B. (1984). Cannibalism and the Common Law: The Story of the Tragic Last Voyage of the Mignonette and the Strange Legal Proceedings to Which It Gave Rise. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. pp. pp209–210. ISBN 9780226759425.