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Elderly jurors don't have the foggiest, say judges

10 August 2010

Letting the over-70s join juries would cause "substantial disruption" to proceedings, according to judges.

Dismissing a Ministry of Justice proposal to extend the compulsory eligibility requirements for pensioners from the age of 70 to 75, the Council of Circuit Judges said the plan could also call the retirement age of judges into question.

“There can be no doubt that increased numbers of jurors who do not enjoy the best of health would risk substantial disruption to proceedings,” wrote Judge David Swift, chairman of the criminal sub committee of the council.

“There would, inevitably, be an increase in “days lost” as a result of illness or incapacity. Proceedings might be hampered by poor hearing, poor vision or physical disability.”

The statement is made in a sub committee report responding to MoJ’s proposals outlined in March.

It states that the average pool of eligible jurors currently stands at some 30 million, catering for fewer than 320,000 spaces on juries each year: “We do not consider that the current eligibility provisions restrict the available numbers to the point where there are insufficient numbers in the pool,” states the report.

Accepting that adding retired people to the list could help to reduce costs of expenses incurred by the lost earnings, the council continues: “There is no doubt that there are many who wish to play a full and active part. That may include the discharge of civic functions such as jury service. We recognise, however, that there are many who do not enjoy the best of health for whom jury service after the age of 70 would be a substantial burden.”

The council also says that having jurors who are older than judges could raise concerns.

The retirement age of judges is currently the same as that of the upper age limit of jurors, although special requests are sometimes granted for a judge to remain in service until the age of 75.

“There are also many who would feel that, having reached pensionable age, retired and then been subject to eligibility for a further five years, they had discharged their obligations to civic duties over the years,” the report goes on. There is, in our view, a need to respect the positions of those categories.”

The judges acknowledge that as medicine and diet improves, people are staying active for longer.

“It has to be recognised, of course, that the higher the age limit the greater the potential problems and the risks of disruption,” the report continues. “We believe that it is unrealistic to consider increasing eligibility beyond the age of 80. There will be some who feel able and willing. We have nothing but admiration for those but the numbers will be small.”

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