26 February, 2008


A jury of one's peers

I recently completed a period of jury service in South London. In many respects the experience was much improved from my previous service about 15 years ago. On that occasion, where I tried a murder case at the Old Bailey, the judiciary and the lawyers treated jurors, witnesses and defendants with equal disdain – as intrusive and irritating riff-raff of the lowest order who got in the way of them having a jolly convivial time exchanging recherché quips in court while the wheels of the feeometer were whizzing round satisfyingly. This attitude extended to the "other ranks" among the court staff; the usher treated us like a particularly moronic flock of sheep. The only notable exception to this generalized atmosphere of contempt was the demeanour of the judge towards the pathologist who had conducted the post mortem on the victim, to whom His Lordship deferred so sycophantically that I was half expecting him to descend from the bench and enter the witness box, unzip the good professor's fly and make full obeisance à la Lewinsky. We got our own back by raising a supplementary question that resulted in the pathologist having to return the following day to give clarification. The noble judge was absolutely, delectably, furious. If it had been within his powers to order a 12-noose mass gallows erected for the jury in West Smithfield that morning to punish our plebeian impertinence, I would not be here today to write this post. (To the satisfaction, I have no doubt, of some of my readers.)

On the present occasion I was in the less elevated surroundings of the Elephant, where I participated in several cases. Treatment of jurors was much improved. It was recognized that we were there, often at considerable personal inconvenience, to carry out a necessary and difficult civic duty and there was a definite display of respect which had previously been missing. A couple of judges seemed genuinely embarrassed when apologizing for the frequent periods of inaccurately predicted duration while we kicked our heels in the jury room or the waiting area while "points of law" were taken off-line.

As the reader will be aware, there are legal restrictions on what I can say about the cases themselves, certainly as far as discussions within the jury are concerned, and I will not risk even accidentally crossing that boundary here. In any case the matters were the usual sordid fodder of rape, robbery, incest and violence which you can read about every day in the South London Press.

What I do want to comment on, as befits the primary theme of this blog, is the demographics. The juror pool (probably about 150 so a fairly respectable sample) were a good mix of age and gender and, to use an out-of-fashion but still well understood term, socio-economic class. This led to excellent and effective jury room dynamics. What was however clearly noticeable was that the jurors were predominantly White. That is not to say that there were no non-Whites present. There was a sprinkling of Oriental, South Asian and Black jurors present, but the juror pool appeared to be about 95% of "White British" or at least North European stock.

The defendants, however, were overwhelmingly Black and other non-European. Obviously I never saw them all assembled in one place for convenient enumeration as was the case with the juror pool, but judging from the cases I took part in, the people shiftily hanging around with their lawyers in the corridors and the court lists, I would say that the defendants were as much as 80% - 90% non-White and/or non-British. The names on the court lists were overwhelmingly foreign, with Muslim, South Asian, Middle Eastern and West African names predominating heavily. Of those with plausibly British surnames, the preponderance of characteristically Black (Afro-Caribbean) forenames was noticeable.

How do we account for this? Well, it has to be said that jurors are not a fully representative sample of the whole adult population. To qualify, you must be on the electoral register and you must have lived in the UK for at least 5 years continuously. This excludes recently arrived immigrants and immigrants who are not from the Commonwealth or the EU but have not yet acquired UK citizenship. Even allowing for these adjustments, the disparity between the juror demographic and the general observed demographic of South London is curious and begs questions. Certainly there is a transient population who tend not to appear on the register, but these are likely to be spread across the racial spectrum. Is there a significant non-White element that is reluctant, even if qualified, to make itself visible on the electoral register? If so, why? Is there a significant number of non-Whites who are disqualified because of their illegal status? Just how many illegals are there in London? On the other hand, what does this say about the view, commonly expressed by bloggers of the Right, that immigration is a plot to import more Labour voters? I’ve never believed this and, apart from the special block voting arrangements of our more clannish resident “communities”, who seem to be turning to the LibDems anyway, it clearly isn’t working anyway.

There are, of course, no comparable qualifications applicable to the defendant population. Commission of and arraignment for an offence sufficiently serious to merit the attentions of the Crown Court is open to all comers regardless of residential, national or ethnic status. Certainly, simply keeping your eyes open in the streets of London leads to the conclusion that the non-White population of London is significantly higher than The Powers That Be would have us believe, but even that adjustment cannot account for the disparity I observed at court.

Either the criminal justice system is biased against non-Whites, or criminality among non-Whites and particularly among recent immigrants is disproportionately high. You may be surprised to learn that I have some sympathy with the first of these options, but certainly not to the observed extent and I suspect that the latter element is paramount.

Benefits of mass immigration, anyone?

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