Two-thirds of people avoid jury service

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The Independent Online

More than two-thirds of people summoned to do jury service manage to find a way of not turning up at court.

More than two-thirds of people summoned to do jury service manage to find a way of not turning up at court.

A Home Office report published yesterday revealed that medical reasons and caring for children and the elderly were the most common excuses, followed by work commitments, studying for exams, holidays and transport difficulties. Others could not be traced or failed to turn up.

The study found that of 50,000 people summoned, only 17,000 were available for service and half of these asked for their appearances to be deferred to a later date.

Brian Barker, QC, chairman of the Criminal Bar Association, said last night that people needed to be made more aware of their civic responsibility to do jury service. He said: "Everybody appreciates that it does take quite a chunk out of people's lives but it's an important responsibility and if people don't take part then the whole thing could grind to a halt."

Another worrying finding of the Home Office report was that dependence on the electoral register as a source of potential jurors could mean juries being dominated by white, home-owners over the age of 30.

The study noted that 24 per cent of black people, 21 per cent of people aged between 20 and 24 and 38 per cent of those living in rented accommodation were not registered and therefore ineligible for jury service.

John Wadham, of the civil rights group Liberty, said: "For the system to work, the jury must represent all of the community. Young people and certainly black people feel alienated because of the attitudes of some police officers and the racism in the Criminal Justice System as a whole. It is hardly surprising that they don't want to take part."

Of the 50,000 people summoned, 7 per cent were disqualified for being over 70 or because they had been convicted of certain offences while 8 per cent could not be traced and 7 per cent failed to attend on the day.

Another 44 per cent were excused duties, with many on medical grounds. This included deafness, blindness or need of a wheelchair.

Ministers are reviewing the law which forbids third parties like lip-readers from being present in jury rooms. Earlier this week, the rule was the subject of an unsuccessful legal challenge by Jeff McWhinney, chief executive of the British Deaf Association.

A fifth of people said they had to care for children or the infirm and 13 per cent described themselves as "essential workers". Others were excused for having relatives in prison or on probation, being pregnant or having to care for animals. The study uncovered 170 people summoned who had been excused because of transport difficulties, most of them living in isolated rural areas.

Of the 34 per cent of people who were available, half asked for a postponement. Most (39 per cent) cited work reasons, with 35 per cent saying they were going on holiday and 6 per cent were studying for exams. One in ten who postponed their service were eventually excused altogether.