Now that I am retired having been many years a magistrate with a long awareness of the declining freedoms enjoyed by the ordinary citizen and a corresponding fear of the big brother state`s ever increasing encroachment on civil liberties I hope that my personal observations within these general parameters will be of interest to those with an open mind. Having been blogging with this title for many years against the rules of the Ministry of Justice my new found freedom should allow me to be less inhibited in these observations.




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Tuesday, 14 June 2016

CURRENT JURY SELECTION PROCESS IS UNFIT FOR 21st CENTURY

There are about 40,000 trials annually in the crown courts of England and Wales of which about half are effective.  As a result about a quarter of a million people over eighteen years old and under seventy five are called to determine whether or not a defendant has been found guilty beyond reasonable doubt.  As an aside, that upper age limit does not fit well with the compulsory removal from the active lay bench of magistrates when they attain three score years and ten.   Be that as it may the restrictions on those selected are rather limited. This is the official information although it has not updated age requirement.  There is no requirement to be a British citizen nor is there any formal test of competence.  

Contempt of court by jurors was a relatively rare situation before the age of the internet and particularly before a smart phone was in most people`s pockets.  There do not appear to be any official figures but I would hazard a guess that if there are fewer than a dozen cases reported annually in the press then the actual number would be perhaps twice that or more.  Last year I posted three times on various aspects of judges, courts and juries.  The numbers of jurors being found in contempt by reason of using the internet seems to be on the rise.  Despite advice some judges do not impose immediate custody for this offence whilst others do. 

An informative paper was published by the Law Commission at the end of 2013. pp77 +  are of particular interest.  IMHO this whole internet thing all leads back to the variations in the understanding of the proceedings  by jurors.  Being drawn as a microcosm of society they have an average IQ of 100.  With there being no requirement for citizenship there is no awareness of any individual`s understanding of the English language. There is no doubt in my mind that the "almost anybody can serve" attitude of those who decide such matters is due for re-consideration. If a  juror with specialist and/or professional knowledge can interpret information given in evidence from his own mental resources is he not only doing his duty in providing that knowledge to his colleagues but putting himself at risk of being charged with contempt? And surely it makes more sense to have an odd number of jurors.  The whole process needs a thorough parliamentary commission to bring it into the 21st century.

2 comments:

  1. Re the upper age limit for jurors, it is still 70 in England (and Wales, I think. There's no upper age limit in Scotland.) The Government announcement 3 years ago that it was going up to 75 got lots of publicity, and the necessary statutory change was eventually provided for in the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 s.68. However, no commencement order has been made to bring it into effect.

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