Monday, 6 May 2013

You Say Judges, Too?

Thursday 21 February 2013 20.00 GMT

Juries? It's time they went the way of the ducking stool

"The soap opera that is the Vicky Pryce trial shows the archaic rituals of our courts to be little more than legal parlour games.

British lawyers and judges. 'Barristers love juries because it beats office work and they get to dress up.'

Can we declare the emperor naked at last? Is it possible that the exasperation of Mr Justice Sweeney with the Vicky Pryce jury might take us where home secretaries, human dignity, common sense and the 21st century have together not dared to tread?

Some aspects of the British way of life are immune to reason. If you want a cheap cheer on Any Questions?, refer reverentially to the Queen, the NHS, our brave boys at the front or trial by jury. The audience goes berserk. No criticism of these institutions is allowed.

Trial by jury is a hangover from days when England was ruled by manorial courts and vestrymen, by impressed constables, "pricked militias" and compulsory dog-catching was the order of the day. Juries were an advance on lynching and trial by combat, ordeal and torture, but only just. Mark Twain thought them "the most ingenious and infallible agency for defeating justice that human wisdom could have devised" – although he failed to mention the revenue they bring lawyers."

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