Tuesday, September 13, 2005


Since the rules on jury service were tightened a while ago it has become almost impossible to get out of it, and the most that one can hope for these days is a deferment. At the same time the rule preventing judges lawyers and magistrates sitting on the jury was abolished. and quite a few from these groups have now served on juries. Of course the proceedings in the jury room are sacrosanct, but there is some anecdotal evidence that those with experience of the courts are often, but not invariably, elected as foreman. The head of the criminal department in our largest local firm of solicitors was called and spent exactly one half-day in the jury box in a fortnight.

I was strongly in favour of the rule change because under the old system the busy middle classes usually got themselves excused, leaving juries stuffed with the retired and the unemployed. One ironic definition of a juror was 'someone who is too stupid to get out of jury service'.

There are a few problems though. For one thing, an employer who allows one of his staff 15 or 20 days off a year to sit as a JP is going to be pretty fed up if they then take another 14 days to sit as a juror. If the judge in a case is junior to the one who is on the jury, the latter will presumably have to keep quiet about it to his jury colleagues. In a tight-knit profession like the Bar there is a strong likelihood that the juror will know one or more of judge, prosecution or defence counsel. And what should I do when the defendant is giving evidence and his counsel fails to ask him if he has any convictions? That is a sure-fire pointer to the fact that he has: should I tell my fellow jurors about it?

Nevertheless, juries should be as balanced as is reasonably practicable. The common folk of the jury are a safeguard that any of us might need one day.

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