Jury out?

Melanie Phillips has written a superb article, Perverse Jury Verdicts Reveal Moral Confusion. Since both this subject and Miss Phillips are close to my heart, I have to add my penny’s worth to her thoughts.

The perversions that drew her ire are acquittals of vandals and hooligans supposedly acting on their political conscience. Miss Phillips mentions several such verdicts, starting with the four Bristol thugs who pulled down the statue of the slave-trader Ed Colston.

Then last April a jury acquitted – ignoring the judge’s direction – six Extinction Rebellion fanatics who vandalised the Shell building in London. And last month another jury acquitted six other climate activists who had obstructed the Docklands Light Railway.  

“It appears from these verdicts,” writes Miss Phillips, “that the ‘conscience’ of the jury supports inflicting harm if its members agree with the political cause behind such acts.”

Her conclusion can’t be faulted: “This cannot be fixed by simply changing the law. It requires instead a so far nonexistent determination by society’s leaders to address the rot they have allowed so widely and deeply to penetrate into the cultural core.”

That’s where Miss Phillips leaves off and I’d like to pick up. First, by saying that the jury system is fundamental to the English Common Law, which in turn is the skeleton of our body politic, legal and social.

Second, it may well be that trial by jury can no longer serve the cause of justice in Britain. It can’t survive as an instrument of justice in the absence of a broadly based group of people who understand what justice means.

That’s demonstrably not the case, judging by the number of acquittals prompted by the mantra “it’s all society’s fault”, references to the defendant’s impoverished childhood or race – and of course to his political motives, frequently viewed as being somehow more noble than depoliticised brutality or vandalism.

A jury system can’t function properly in the absence of a vast pool of citizens who, even without any legal training, understand the meaning of such concepts as law, crime, justice, punishment – and that’s to begin with.

For such understanding can’t be inhaled from ambient air. It has to be informed by a deeply ingrained, almost intuitive command of such concepts as good and evil or, at a pinch, their secular reflections, right and wrong.

In other words, there has to exist in society a moral system shared by most and accepted by all as absolute and inviolable. Yet it’s not immediately clear how a purely secular country can create such a system. For anything like that to appear, a society has to be glued together by a powerful adhesive – and a widely shared desire for rapacious consumption doesn’t seem to do the trick.

Citizens of an almighty materialist state lose the capacity for being just that, citizens, in the sense in which, say, Plato and Aristotle understood the term. Real citizenship presupposes individual liberty based on individual responsibility for one’s actions. It also involves an ability that’s practically extinct in today’s West: correlating one’s individuality, as expressed through words or deeds, with public good.

And even that isn’t all. People must also see how they and their time fit into their national or, even broader, civilisational continuum. In practical terms, they have to know without having to think about it that a law that has been on the books for a millennium must be treated at least with respect, ideally with reverence.

The absence of all such lovely things is exactly “the rot” that has “deeply penetrated into the cultural core”. And Melanie is right that our leaders show no determination to expunge the putrefaction. They can’t – they have the next election to think about.

A chap preaching that eating human flesh is wrong will never seduce an electorate of cannibals. If people have been brainwashed in moral and intellectual perversions, these have to be accounted for and catered to.

In the examples chosen by Miss Phillips, our population at large has been conditioned to view the world, both synchronically and diachronically, strictly in terms of economic, racial and sexual equality, with an extra layer of commitment to stopping climate change – something that no society in the 5,000 years of recorded history has managed to do.

Sensible people do exist, but not in numbers large enough to make it statistically probable that they’ll find their way to jury service. This means that, in a society lacking a moral and therefore intellectual core, jurors are overwhelmingly likely to be weathercocks turning in the winds of prevailing fads.

Hence it’s not any old political motivation that’s seen as extenuation in our courts, but specifically the kind consonant with the current cults. Let’s say, by way of illustration, that I find both our secular saints, Mandela and Tutu, objectionable.

Mandela was a communist and a murderer who rose to the leadership of the ANC. On his watch, his minions killed, looted and tortured on an industrial scale. And Tutu threw his weight behind every woke cult in Satan’s creation, which he successfully combined with virulent anti-Semitism.

Still, the thought never crosses my mind to abuse sculptural or pictorial representations of either gentleman in any manner. But suppose it did? What if I got tried for pulling down Mandela’s statue in Parliament Square? Do you think any jurors in the land would acquit me on the grounds of my sincerely held political convictions?

All this leads to the conclusion Melanie didn’t reach, leaving that to her readers’ own imagination: given the current conditions, the jury system can no longer work as an instrument of justice.

Much as it pains me to say so, it ought to be replaced by bench trial. That wouldn’t guarantee that justice will be done either, but the odds would improve. Even though judges are subject to the same general trends, there are still enough of them out there who know and respect the law, putting it above their own predilections.

But don’t ask me how such a transition could be achieved. I don’t know. But I do know that something must be done if the rule of law is to survive.   

7 thoughts on “Jury out?”

  1. It is about 21.30 hrs and no comments have yet appeared, so I feel obliged to add my two pennyworth of agreement with the thrust (and most of the detail) of Mr Boot’s posting today.

    Well said!

  2. “commitment to stopping climate change – something that no society in the 5,000 years of recorded history has managed to do.”

    Mankind [include women too] should not even try to stop man-made global warming so called. Global warming a naturally occurring phenomenon of course then to be followed by thousands of years of global cooling also naturally occurring phenomenon. Messing with Mother Nature a very bad idea. Will not necessarily solve a situation but rather perhaps interfere with a process we do not and more than likely will never fully understand.

    Alarm-bell hysterics almost always serve no one well at all.

  3. “When you go into court you are putting your fate into the hands of twelve people who weren’t smart enough to get out of jury duty.” The quote is generally attributed to comedian Norm Crosby.

    Most people view jury service as a burden, something to be avoided, rather than a privilege of taking part in a system of justice on which our civilization was founded. The latest time I was summoned, panelists nearly unanimously decreed to believe a suspect over a police officer. (I think the case must have involved some claim of planted evidence.) I was astonished. I believe Mr. Boot is correct in stating that this is a moral failing, but short of the apocalypse I see no way to reverse it.

    Bench trial is also a scary proposition. Have we forgotten Judge Bowers: “It takes a huge amount of courage as far as I can see for someone to burgle somebody’s house.” And, “I think prison very rarely does anybody any good.” As if keeping the convicted from continuing his crime spree (and protecting citizens of the realm) had no merit whatsoever.

    God help us. Please!

  4. My only experience with legal procedures is as a victim of crime. Lucky me. Years ago I attended the sentencing hearing of the criminal who burgled my house. I did not attend the earlier hearings on advice of the prosecutor. The judicial sympathy for criminals shocked me. The judge gave the burglar a lighter sentence in consideration of the fact that he had suffered severe injuries (multiple broken bones and lost teeth) at the hands of the homeowner (myself). The judge asked if I had any statement to provide. I answered “no”. The visible scars on the right side of the burglar’s face were a more eloquent courtroom statement than anything I could say.

    It is my view that the only reason we have a justice system at all is because the alternative is much worse: tit-for-tat vendettas, improvised vengeance, and vigilantism. Judges need to be reminded that prison sentences for criminals are granted to protect the criminal from the public as much as the public from the criminal.

    1. I am sad to learn that you were the victim of a home burglary. I am happy to learn you were able to defend your person and property and inflict such serious damage. Bravo sir!

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