Tuesday, 4 March 2014

An Inconsistency In The Judicial Process


A thought occurred to me today regarding an inconsistency in the judicial system - one that you may not have noticed. Prior to being called as a juror for a case, the court ensures that none of the prospective jury members knows anyone involved in the case for fear of compromising it. This is fine - any information that could impair a juror's impartiality is rightly declared beforehand. But as far as I know, the court never asks whether would-be jurors wish to disclose any strong moral beliefs or traumatic experiences that would compromise their ability to judge the case in a balanced and impartial manner. This seems to me to be a case of guarding against one kind of potential impartiality while at the same time blatantly failing to guard against other potential impartialities of a moral or emotional kind.

Suppose you're an innocent female biologist on trial for malpractice. You'd probably want to feel assured that no one in the jury is a fanatical creationist who thinks that all evolutionists subscribe to Social Darwinism. Or suppose you're an innocent Polish immigrant on trial for mugging a British pensioner. You'd probably want to feel assured that no one in the jury is an anti-immigrant xenophobe. Or suppose you're an innocent Catholic priest accused of child abuse. You'd probably want to feel assured that no one in the jury has suffered horrific abuse in a Catholic Magdalene asylum in their own childhood. Or lastly, suppose you're an innocent black youth on trial for beating up a white youth. You'd probably want to feel assured that no one in the jury is a hardened racist.

If the pre-trial policy is that information should be disclosed if it could affect a juror's ability to assess the case impartially, then strong moral beliefs and traumatic experiences ought to fall into that category too, because they can have a significant impact on impartiality. Given the relatively short time it would take to invite prospective jurors to disclose these potential partialities, I find it an oversight on their part that they are not part of the court's considerations.

To read an older Blog post of mine on further judicial flaws, see here.

* Photo courtesy of passenlaw.com

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