G.L.Piggy [at] gmail.com
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Melanie Philips captures one snippet of a worrisome trend in England. A minor yet strange case in which a financier named Vicky Pryce is being tried for obstruction of justice for taking driving points on her husband’s behalf so that he wouldn’t lose his license. The judge dismissed the jury after it became clear that they were stupid:
On Tuesday, the jurors had presented him with a list of ten questions which revealed that they simply did not have a clue about what they had heard as evidence, what they had been told by himself or indeed what they were supposed to be doing there at all.
For example, they asked for a definition of reaching a verdict ‘beyond reasonable doubt’.
This was despite the fact that the judge had already given them guidance on this in writing.
Mr Justice Sweeney effectively threw up his hands in despair, saying that these were ‘ordinary English words’ that he could not define any further.
Bafflingly, they asked whether a wife’s religious conviction would make her feel that she had no option but to obey her husband. But since Vicky Pryce’s religious beliefs had not even been mentioned, this was clearly totally irrelevant to the case.
Equally perplexingly, they asked whether the defendant had an obligation to present a defence. In reply, the judge reminded them he had told them that the defendant did not have to prove anything at all.
Most extraordinary of all, they asked whether they could reach a verdict based on a reason that was not presented in court and had no facts or evidence to support it.
Inevitably, the question will be asked whether the jury system is breaking down because some of the public are no longer adequate to the challenge of understanding even basic English, let alone the fundamental rudiments of a trial.
We are not allowed to know much about the jurors in a trial, so we can only speculate about the make-up of this particular panel.
Nevertheless, one is forced to conclude that this most deeply alarming development is the result of changes in British society for the worse – a breakdown in education standards, a rise in the number of people for whom English is not their first language, and a chronic inability to understand how institutions of this country operate.
Further down the piece, the point is laid bare: the jury consisted of 2 whites and 10 people of either Afro-Caribbean or Asian descent; on two occasions, days had to be cut short in order for jurors to fulfill religious observances. Philips ties in the Anglo-Saxon origins, or at least the development of the concept of, empaneled juries and their importance to Western law and Western institutions and civilization. Can such institutions maintain their integrity even as demographic forces do their corrosive work?