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i Editor's Letter: Life is not The Good Wife

 

Everyone has a view on the Vicky Pryce trial debacle: those now infamous 10 questions, the judge's withering responses and the wider implications for trial by jury. Based dangerously on the cumulative weight of anecdotal evidence, it appears those views are coloured largely by whether or not one has actually "done it".

Asking around, I'm surprised by how few have been on a jury. Of course, I'm asking mostly professional people with the inclination and education to "get out of it" on the flimsy grounds that their work is so vital to society and/or they are so crucial to that work it can't continue without them. As if jury service is not important.

That said, I have helped some "get out of it" on quite different grounds: their English not being up to writing a letter of excuse, let alone fully understanding the complex legalese of a trial. It strikes me – based on more dangerous anecdotes, including my own depressing experience – that therein lies much of the comprehension problem.

In private, if not public, many are sneering at the Pryce jury for being "thick". The judge himself implied as much of at least one juror. But, there is a different way of looking at this. Perhaps these jurors, who may or may not have English as a first language, quite reasonably did not feel they grasped the precise meaning of "beyond reasonable doubt". Perhaps such questions reflected an admirable sense of civic duty, not ignorance. Perhaps they should inspire confidence in the system, not condemnation from a judge, who has sat in scary courtrooms for 30 years, and armchair critics who have bottled the responsibility of fulfilling a jury summons.

Life is not The Good Wife. We can't choose juries via weeks of selection argument. If we believe in being judged by our peers, then we must stop hiding in arrogant cowardice and say yes to that onerous responsibility.

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