Friday, October 16, 2009

Twelve men good and true

The jury system is amazing. It is the safest and surest protection against the tyranny of the state. No man can be deprived of his liberty without his peers condemning him. It is a guard against arbitrary detention. Of course, with a huge array of laws chipping away at our fundamental liberties, my pontificating is pretty out of date. Still, juries are crucial.

In other countries, jurors decide upon the sentence as well as guilt. The risk is obvious. In England, professional judges are required to assess dispassionately the gravity of the offending, with reference to guidelines. The Court of Appeal is perfectly happy to stick its oar in when things aren't as they should be -- "manifestly excessive" or "unduly lenient", as the case may be.

In the good ol' US of A, those who bear the awesome responsibility of deciding whether to end another human's life are the jurors. I am, as I have said before, vehemently opposed to the death penalty. I am also vehemently opposed to the courts being used as a moral tribunal.

So, when I put my feet up in the smoking room after a particularly heavy luncheon of roast haunch of wild boar, to peruse the papers over a snifter of brandy, I nearly had to throw something at the staff. This sort of thing is simply not on.

Citing out-of-context, cherry-picked verses from ancient religious texts is not the way to decide whether one man's crime is of such a gravity that it should be punished by death. I am glad that I live in a country where those who sentence take an oath to do right to all manner of people after the laws and usages of this realm, without fear or favour, affection or ill will.

A theocracy is the most hateful form of government, for it affords no liberty of conscience, which is among the most intimate and sacred of man's rights.

By the way, lunch was a sandwich made by my own fair hands, an apple, and a Twirl. And I wolfed it down in about 3 minutes flat. Your tax pennies hard at work. That lunch is a genuine one, however, eaten within the last couple of years, and is fondly remembered and dearly missed.


  1. Facinating & frightening.
    Thank you

  2. A typical public servant's lunch. Mine was an apple and a yogurt eaten whilst reading a report. At least in court we get a quick cuppa !!!

  3. And it's leftovers for lunch today. Our local court has cups of tea you could use to strip paint -- scalding hot, and so foul-tasting, you have to have six sugars to render it drinkable.

  4. Citing out-of-context, cherry-picked verses from ancient religious texts is not the way to decide whether one man's crime is of such a gravity that it should be punished by death.

    Ancient and compoundly-translated and -interpreted texts no less, and not just out of context with the surrounding text but also out of historical context as well.

  5. Hmmm! I attended the trial in Pamiers (French Pyrenees) in 1982 of three Paras who'd killed a pimp. They were charged wi' assault occasioning death without intent. The defence ensured that we had a jury of farm labourers, none of whom had passed his 11 Plus. The Minimum sentence was 5 years, unless extenuating circs could be found. In France (then, at least) the Judges retired with the jury. Next day I met the junior of the three judges in the street, and he instantly broke the jury oath! The lay jurors could all understand how if you don't get your end away on market day, you'll want to kill someone, so had unanimously found extenuating circs. The boys were given four years, and the compensation to the mother and (rather attractive) sister of the deceased was reduced to 10% of his minimal value because that sort of man would have been unlikely to have supported him mum any way!

    I think a jury is wonderful. The boys were rather upset to miss their only chance of really killing lots of people - they spent the whole of the falklands war in a French jail!