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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Monday, 14 November 2016

JUDGEMENT BY ONE`S PEERS AFTER BREXIT

Amidst the thousands of column inches on the Trump triumph and further revelations about our disintegrating prisons the MOJ released a little noticed statement a few days ago that in just over two weeks the age limit for serving on a jury will be raised from 70 to 75.   In view of my own and colleagues` compulsory retirement at 70 I have spent a minute or two asking myself why this change.

Ever since the closure of the loophole over a decade ago  allowing mainly middle class professionals to evade jury duty one would have thought that any further changes would have involved the filtering of eligibility to ensure that only those with the capability of following  the often labyrinthine and elevated language of the court would be called upon to do this civil duty. One it seems would have been wrong.  My thinking initially provided negative reasons for this sudden change.  By extending the age criterion mainly retirees would now be available to serve. Such people would not need to be recompensed for loss of earnings; tax payers` money would be saved.  There is no doubt that political and social opinions progress to the right for a majority as age progresses to the last decade or two of life. Perhaps having a reactionary minded pensioner on a jury would persuade younger members to convict more defendants especially in crimes of a violent or sexual nature.  What ever the weasel minded bright sparks at the MOJ had in mind it was certainly not for the best interests of those now available to be corralled into service.  Perhaps it is a panic measure to placate those lobbyists eg Help the Aged who are all fired up with the current discussions on the removal of the so called three way lock on pensions. With age related disability in the over 70s it does not require a crystal ball to predict that much time and effort will be expended by MOJ  beaurocracy in response to those called who will be unable for myriad reasons to serve on a jury. I find it very difficult to explain this decision in a positive light except perhaps it has finally dawned on the aforesaid weasels that far too many jurors are just unable to fulfil the requirements in practice owing to having a barely acceptable grasp of ordinary spoken English. Of course there are no hard facts as far as I am aware in the public domain on this topic. 

When Brexit finally begins to be implemented a priority for the MOJ should be to restrict jury duty to British citizens only.  In future if one million Poles and two million other Europeans wish to remain in this country they will be welcome as far as I am concerned but it would be against natural justice for them to sit in judgement on British citizens if they themselves did not wish to become the peers of the defendants. After all isn`t the phrase commonly quoted; judgement by one`s peers.  
 

3 comments:

  1. Apropos this, I was called for service yesterday at the local High Court. Loitering before entering, I was struck by how many people were speaking briefly to the desk staff then leaving. As I joined and moved up the long queue, I overheard this the rote phrase over and over again: "You didn't call the number on the back, did you? You're not needed today. You need to call that number tonight after 5pm."

    When this was met by blank or hostile stares, it had to be re-enforced with a peremptory "Please leave now," accompanied by a point towards the door.

    Needless to say, many of the those baffled candidates were culturally diverse, or clearly rode the short bus to school. Being demonstrably unable to follow extremely simple, clear and unambiguous written instructions, how could they possibly be expected to do justice to even the clearest of cases, let alone the doubtless complex and nuanced he-said-she-said rape case for which I was balloted?

    It's a prickly circle to square. Even if an average citizen is capable of doing a decent job, half of us will fall below that mean standard. Attempting to select jurors on the basis of competence would presumably lead to culling both the inept, but also the ept who can identify the correct wrong answer to give.

    Soliciting volunteers jurors might find keen candidates, but not necessarily representative or unbiased ones. The thought of pools filled with activist jurors - #MyGenderNeverLies, #MyEthnicityMatters, #RomanesEuntDomus - gives me a shiver.

    In the end, I passed the competency test for being excused (the bar isn't set high) and so didn't get to see how random selection played out in practice. Poor show, I know, but until service is seen as a privilege rather than a chore, thus shall it remains.

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  2. The intention to raise the jury service age limit to 75 was actually announced in August 2013 and received quite a bit of publicity at the time. Statutory provision was subsequently made in Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 s.68, which it seems from the MoJ statement is now being brought into effect.

    Detailed background may be found in the legislative Impact Assessment at www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/277803/jury-service-upper-age-limit-ia.pdf that also says “The intended effect is to make juries in England and Wales more representative of the adult population with regard to age than is currently the case, thereby ensuring that juries benefit from the experience and knowledge of people in the 70-75 age group” – cue grumbling amongst the magistracy!

    As for the Brexit xenophobia, why would it be “against natural justice” for EU citizens to continue to do jury service as they do now? As they will do if the Brexit deal allows them to remain as local government electors – just like the non-British citizens of some 70 other foreign lands comprising the Irish Republic, Commonwealth countries, overseas territories and Crown dependencies. Or will you be campaigning to have all those Johnny Foreigners excluded as well?

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  3. If you feel "British Citizens" should not be regarded as peers who can be judged by other British residents who are citizens of another country does it not also follow that any non-British citizen in an English dock should be able to expect their jury (or bench?) to be comprised solely of other resident non-Citizens? I think citizenship is a poor criteria for jury selection. I also think age is a poor criteria - but if you want them to be representative of "typical" defendants you should make them much younger.

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