Sunday, 24 February 2013

Driven to Extremes

The collapse of the trial of Vicky Pryce is not just ludicrous, it reveals that the jury system is in crisis. The judge complained that they kept asking stupid questions, and this was because most most of them did not understand English. He blamed the fall in educational standards...well that is a familiar moan. There is another reason actually. The problem is that the first thing most people do when they get called up for jury service is find an excuse not to go. They don't want to miss paid work to carry out an unpaid civic duty. Being on a jury can be boring and it can also be very taxing for those required to follow the technical details of a complicated case. And you do it at a loss if you have a job.
      So juries tend to be dominated by people who could not find a good enough pretext for avoiding it. Housewives, the unemployed and the less educated often end up on juries. Anybody over the age of 70 is automatically excluded, yet a person under that age who barely understands any English is eligible to serve. This is one more way in which our society is unfair to older people.
There is a strong pressure coming from the EU to abolish trial by jury in the UK and to replace it with trial by experts. I think this is an attack on our rights and freedoms, and if we want the jury system to survive we must all support it and stop skiving off jury service. I want to see the best brains taking pride in serving on a jury and maintaining the ancient rights of Magna Carta, including the right to be tried by your peers.
        Vicky Pryce will have to have another trial, costing the tax-payer goodness knows how much, and I suspect that at the end of it she will get a suspended sentence. She is not a hardened criminal and the public does not really need to be protected from her, as the likelihood that she will ever again perjure herself by taking driving points for her ex-husband is remote. Whether Chris Huhne goes to gaol remains to be seen, but I'm told that if he does it will not be for the first time and that his first experience of penal servitude was also for a driving offence. In 1972 he and a few friends bought an old London taxi-cab and drove down to Southern Europe on holiday. They shared the driving and all was going well until somewhere in Greece, Chris unfortunately (allegedly) crashed the taxi. To his surprise, the police threw him into a cell for a few days. This was under the colonels, and police could do more or less what they liked with offenders, particularly those who happened to be foreigners and have long hair. His friends went on ahead without him, and Chris eventually turned up to meet them on the island of Hydra, a bit bedraggled and crestfallen. But he soon perked up and started to take an interest in the local girls.

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