There has been much attention paid to Lord Judge, Lord Chief Justice and the judiciary`s main man. This is as it should be. And when he comments on the jury system everybody listens and that also is how it should be. But critical comment has been………… pianissimo.
The good lord has explained his discomfort in that jurors might seek further knowledge from outside the courtroom when considering facts pertaining to a case. In other words they might seek to increase their knowledge by the common man`s most accessible source of information……the internet……. which might offer many things but in general terms is an enormous fantasamagorical library with an indexing system easy enough for Joe Blogs to find in seconds eg the Italian musical term for playing softly. But in the good old days only toffs and so called intellectuals had shelves full of books which contained information that was or could be useful for or of interest to them. Of course in those days old or good most such folk declined to serve on juries; they were too busy or considered themselves too important to judge their fellow man. Now that`s all changed and everybody……..or is anybody a better description?……..can be chosen for jury service. And that`s the point. There is no consideration of anybody`s intelligence or ability to follow the performance, to appreciate the hurdle “beyond reasonable doubt”, no test to ascertain the limits of anybody`s understanding of the English language or anybody`s capability of balancing the credibility of witnesses or the facility for anybody to comprehend a judge`s summing up. Truly anybody can be a bit thick but then that`s why we have a jury of twelve people who can be anybody. Of course under current attitudes supposedly handed down from Magna Carta and modified for current times peer review by any other term is what determines a defendant`s guilt or innocence.
In effect the LCJ is complaining that ignorant jurors trying to fulfil their task are seeking knowledge outside the courtroom which others in their group might already possess by virtue of their education, profession, general or specific knowledge or quite simply a higher IQ. Universal jury service is now an outmoded concept and sooner or later a senior member of the judiciary, probably after retirement, will step into the public arena and say so. This is not to say I am advocating judge[s] only courts……I am against the practice of single District Judges acting in trials as both judge and jury. I am suggesting that the concept of juries now constituted is not an 11th commandment notwithstanding the recent paper Are Juries Fair? Another interesting paper taking a wide historical perspective is A Historical and Comparative Perspective on the Common Law Jury . More research should be undertaken into possible variations to ensure that justice is done and seen to be done lest another government with similar authoritarian tendencies as those which lurked in Downing Street from 1997 until May pulls up its drawbridge and judge[s] only trials risk becoming commonplace.