Ruling on making juries more 'grey' considered

Pensioners whose daily puzzles usually comprise a date with Countdown or mulling over a newspaper crossword could soon find themselves with a more serious task on their hands.

The Ministry of Justice is considering raising the age limit of jurors beyond 70, in an attempt to be more reflective of an ageing population. The new rules would mean that those in their eighties or even nineties could sit on the panel and pass their verdict on criminals.

The public consultation, which was welcomed by charities and backed by the Tories yesterday, comes in the wake of an ageing-population shift. The UK has 6.5 million people aged 70 or over in England and Wales, a figure set to rise to more than 10 million by 2040.

The Justice minister Claire Ward insisted the proposal was in the interest of a jury system that is "representative of the population as a whole". The so-called "grey jurors" would also technically save the economy up to £146m a year by taking the place of younger people who have to give up work in order to attend jury service.

But the consultation also highlights concerns that elderly jurors might be hard of hearing or have trouble recalling facts, compounding the risk of producing "less sound verdicts". It also cites US research which has suggested that older jurors perform "markedly poorer" than younger ones.

The public consultation will ask people whether they want to retain the current juror age limit, increase it to 75 or 80, or even abolish an upper limit altogether. A right to excuse yourself from jury service could be included for anyone aged 70 or over.

The National Pensioners Convention general secretary, Dot Gibson, said the consultation recognised the fact that most people are "not brain-dead at 70" and was "long overdue".