Of juries and justice
Tuesday, October 25, 2022
This week and next I am on jury service.
The jury is the last of Britain’s institutions in which I have any faith. I learned about “criminal equity” (known in the US as "jury nullification") during the legal history part of my long-ago law degree. For example, the hated “game laws” providing for capital punishment of poachers were reformed against the wishes of the landowning gentry in Parliament because juries refused to send men to their deaths for those crimes. They acquitted the guilty to subvert the system. In the end, to secure convictions, Parliament had to scale down the punishments.
As a libertarian I believe that most of our current laws should not exist. Perhaps there will be some scope for criminal equity if I am asked to convict someone under one of those superfluous laws? I should be so lucky.
So far, as I was not selected for any of the trials, I have had a day of my life wasted in a scruffy, noisy and uncomfortable "Jury Assembly Room." Looking around me, it's clear I am – as is of course to be expected – going to meet people outside my usual circle. I look forward to that with interest. As names were called out for each jury, there were precious few Smiths and Joneses. I'd estimate about one traditional British name per jury. Interestingly, there were almost as many names from Eastern Europe as from the Sub-Continent. I may get the chance to practise my Polish.
The officials marshalling us citizens like cattle seemed efficient enough though their training did not involve public speaking. They had difficulty projecting their voices (if indeed they were trying) and they were not supported by any sound system. Given the noise from the in-room cafe (selling meals at precisely £5.71 – the maximum allowed expense), the general hubbub of a crowded room and the fact that the court is under the Heathrow flight path, that made it difficult to hear them at times.
They had the usual condescending tone of people whose wages are funded by state force. I enjoyed it when the lady welcoming us had a script to read thanking us for our contribution. She just couldn't sound convincingly grateful. Let's just say I fancy my chances if I ever get to play her at poker.
I also noticed the usual over-familiar use of first names. The private sector is just as guilty of that these days, but it's particularly annoying from state functionaries from whom I cannot walk away. In fairness, I despise the British state so much that its employees would need to be epically polite to please me, even if they wanted to. In truth, if they knew how much they get on my nerves, I suspect it would make their day. So I must just grin and bear it.
My only direct interaction was to enquire politely about reimbursement of taxi costs. The lady said "no" before I finished my sentence and without enquiry about my reasons for asking. I am not short of money for the fares and will put my own comfort and convenience first regardless. I just wish now I'd never asked. It wasn't worth the irritation for the sake of a few quid. I guess the optimist in me still hopes for one pleasant interaction before I die with the state funded by most of my life's work.
It's a criminal offence to write about details of the trial or jury deliberations. I wouldn't do it anyway as that's a good law. We could not reasonably ask jurors to participate in criminal trials if they were at risk of their identities or opinions being exposed to people they might convict. However, I will let you know my general impressions of the process.
Let's hope I retain my faith when my service ends.