Monday, 25 February 2013

Peter Hitchens versus Lord Heseltine

BBC Question Time Thursday 21 February 2013 St Paul's Cathedral.

Between about 07:45 and 08:02 on the Iplayer recording of the programme there is the following exchange between Lord Heseltine and Peter Hitchens that I hope I have transcribed accurately :

Lord Heseltine: We mentioned age. Well, we're perfectly prepared to send people out at age of eighteen to kill in Britain's name all over the world where it's appropriate. Are you seriously telling me that they are too young to make a judgement about what is right or wrong? I don't believe that.

Peter Hitchens: Yes I am

I can't see this mentioned in Mr Hitchens' own partial transcription on his Mailonline clog (corporate-hosted blog) which covers the programme from about 11:48 -13:10. I wonder why. Is it because he was able to say that Lord Heseltine mistakenly claimed he used the word "stupid" about young men instead of "unwise", thereby enabling Mr Hitchens to claim a win? Stupid isn't an exact synonym of unwise, but are eighteen year olds really too young to make a judgement about what is right and wrong?

I'm surprised I got no  response to the open-goal I posted on the Hitchens Clog  to lure a correction. Unfortunately, two commenters confused criminal responsibility with maturity for jury service.  In the second and third paragraphs I wrote about juries:

Mr Hitchens,

So if you consider that eighteen year olds are too young to make a judgement about what is right or wrong, ought the age of criminal responsibility be raised?

Changing the topic, I am genuinely interested in developing what might be called a common standard of competence for jurors. It would certainly include questions to identify people with sociopathic/psychopathic traits, but wonder if, for example, autism or Aspergers should be sufficient reason to disqualify someone. How would fairness and scepticism be measured? Perhaps you could ask your readers for ideas in a future posting.

My very simple solution to getting more middle-class, better educated people to sit on juries is for them not to attempt to be excused for what are often selfish and spurious reasons. Jury service is an honour and a significant responsibility and those who dodge it are shirkers. You wrote " it ain't what you got but what you do with it," (although the use of "ain't" should disqualify anyone from everything) and those that have got it should do more with it than those with less..

Posted by Brian, Coventry 23 February 2013 at 01:08 pm

Anyone with a basic knowledge of the jury system would be aware of the widening of the pool of eligible jurors and the restrictions on excusing jurors that were introduced by the amendment of the relevant sections of the Juries Act 1974 by s321, Sch 33 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003. The scope for middle-class professionals to dodge jury service has been ended as this Guidance for Summoning Officers illustrates. Indeed, the selection of jurors from the Electoral Roll by the Jury Central Summoning Bureau actually increases the proportion of middle-class professionals because who is less likely to register to vote? The people who aren't, supposedly, suitable for juries.

One wonders in the light recent cases,  if Section 10 of the  Juries Act 1974, ie

Discharge of summonses in case of doubt as to capacity to act effectively as a juror.

Where it appears to the appropriate officer, in the case of a person attending in pursuance of a summons under this Act, that on account of F12. . . insufficient understanding of English there is doubt as to his capacity to act effectively as a juror, the person may be brought before the judge, who shall determine whether or not he should act as a juror and, if not, shall discharge the summons; and for this purpose “the judge” means any judge of the High Court or any Circuit judge or Recorder.

will be used as a matter of course to filter unsuitable jurors.

Update: May I recommend the excellent UK Criminal Law Blog 

Update 26 February: I'm surprised Mr Hitchens refuses to acknowledge his statement on Question Time as he is a defender of  so-called "cruel lawyers".

Update 28 February: It appears that Mr Hitchens thought Lord Heseltine was going to say something else, which is why he said what he did. Oddly, Lord Heseltine isn't accorded the same latitude over his subsequent mistaken use of "stupid" as a synonym for "unwise". To permit that would detract from Mr Hitchens' constitutional status as The LibLabCons Despise Me For Always Being Right Figure (If only people would accept his opinions as the facts he knows they are). But then, to quote Kenneth Williams as Caesar in Carry on Cleo, "Infamy, Infamy, they've all got it in for me."

The whole affair reminds me of a junior school spat: "Sir, Heseltine called me a pleb, sir", "And why did he call you an pleb?" "Dunno, sir", "Heseltine, why did you call Hitchens a pleb?" "'Cos he called me an oik, sir." "Oh, run along you fools and let me finish my coffee." The truth is, Peter Hitchens' USP is that he is different and says things most people don't agree with. That's why he is invited on to Question Time, to raise the audience's hackles as they boo the caped villain in the melodrama.


Anonymous said...

I'll comment only on the 'Jury' part of this post.
Having twice completed jury service i feel qualified to say it's a disaster.
I hope and believe i am an intelligent human being and when asked to do this service, i did it to the best of my ability.
Unfortunately others alongside me ranged from the disinterested to those who were mentally incapable of understanding. With another group who spent the whole time complaining they were losing money by being there and wanted help with their expenses forms. Quite untroubled about the reason they had been appointed.
I think we need to look at a 'jury pool' system creating volunteer semi-professional jurors.

Old Albion

Brian said...

Hi Old Albion,

Thank you for your insightful comment. The "jury pool" is an interesting idea but questions about independence and case hardening (in the legal sense) might be raised. In addition, wouldn't they be very similar to magistrates - who do not need to be unanimous or even have a 10-2 majority in their verdict as no mention of dissenting opinion on the bench is ever made public.

Anonymous said...

You make some probably fair comments Brian.
The only thing i'm sure of is the system as it is ain't good.
I hope i never have to face a jury!

Old Albion

Brian said...

@Old Albion,
Many thanks. As for never having to face a jury, for most people the process alone is a punishment, even if one is found innocent by a jury of twelve wise jurispridists with the self-knowledge that but for one wrong decision they could also be in the dock.