Older jurors are on their way…
Here’s hoping they behave
On 1 December, the upper age for those who can sit on a jury becomes 75, a rise of five years from the current ceiling of 70.
The change will increase the pool of people eligible for jury service by 3 million. It’s a good thing, according to justice minister Sir Oliver Heald QC. He says:
Trial by jury is a fundamental part of our world-leading justice system and it is important that our juries reflect today’s society. People are living longer, healthier lives, so it is right that our courts are able to benefit from the wisdom and experience that older people can offer.
What’s not to like? Nothing. The change is a good thing. Ageism is bad form.
But talking of bad form, it has an antonym. It’s called good form. And sometimes jurors, young and old, don’t exhibit the good form that the justice system would like. Here are a few examples that the new band of 70+ jurors will not want to emulate.
1. Drunk juror causes trial to be halted
Thanks to The Daily Mail for this one. In a drugs trial, Recorder Guthrie became aware that a female juror was doing what jurors since time immemorial have done — have a nap. However, if this might have been no more than standard, expenses-paid behaviour, said juror was under the influence. Said Guthrie:
During the course of the trial one of the jurors appeared to be asleep. The strong suspicion was she was under the influence of alcohol and I was forced to discharge the jury.
2. P****d again
“Routinely, the decisions of juries have far reaching consequences in the lives of others, whether accused persons or the victims of crime.” So said Sheriff Alan Mackenzie in a drugs trial at Glasgow Sheriff Court in 2013, and he’s quite right. Sadly Sharon Wright didn’t seem to take this to heart, showing up drunk during the trial — and ending up with an electronic tag for her misconduct.
3. Getting edgy across the pond
In a New York trial in 2009, a juror sent a note to the judge saying:
I am being intimidated, threatened, screamed at, as well as verbally insulted that I am stupid because I do not agree. I have had 2 physical threats against me, a chair thrown and a verbal threat to beat me up. I need a police escort out of here. And I am afraid to come back …
Couldn’t happen here. Could it?
4. You’re fired!
No, of course not. In all the annals of domestic trials, there seems not to be a single recorded instance of a jury bullying other jury members (Legal Cheek readers: please send in examples). Perhaps this has something to do with the law: the Contempt of Court Act 1981 says it’s a contempt of court to disclose the secrets of the jury room, so here in Britain we have no idea what really goes on over such mundane things as deciding an accused’s guilt or innocence.
But we do know that some juries aren’t up to the job. Take the jury in the trial of Vicky Pryce for taking the speeding points of disgraced cabinet minister Chris Hume. Mr Justice Sweeney discharged the jury after more than 15 hours of deliberations, when they submitted ten questions “that indicated they had not grasped the basics of their task”. In other words, they had no idea what they were doing.
5. Enjoying jury service just a bit too much
Back to America (where else? they’ve just elected Trump, right?) for a cautionary tale. You may find yourself sitting on a jury but if, rather than falling asleep, you find the whole process very, very enjoyable, don’t get too carried away, as seems to have been the fate of a New York juror in 2006. Read this link to find out why a section of the courthouse was shut down for what are surely unique circumstances.
6. Pump it up
Or are they? By way of a reminder that judges can behave badly too, check out this story from Oklahoma City. And yes, the so-called ‘Penis Pump’ judge later received a four year sentence.