Who’s afraid of older jurors?

Turns out it’s the Brits. Well, they’re not as spooked by them as they used to be. Currently, there is a limit that jurors cannot be over 70 years old, but that limit is rising to 75. As reported in the Daily Mirror, the Justice Secretary Chris Graying explained that

“Jury service is, and remains, a cornerstone of the British justice system laid down in the Magna Carta almost 800 years ago. Every year, thousands of people give their time to take part in this vital function…Our society is changing and it is essential that the criminal justice system moves with the times. This is about harnessing the knowledge and life experiences of a group of people who can offer significant benefits to the court process.”

Well, it’s good to “keep up with the times,” but what aspect of our world makes it necessary to deny a 76 year-old the right to serve on a jury? We have all met people that age or higher who we would sooner recommend for jury service than their juniors, whether 18 or 48.

An arbitrary upper age limit seems contrary to the juror’s right to serve, something my co-authors and I celebrated in the book The Jury & Democracy. Our main finding was that service gives jurors a civic boost by increasing various forms of political and community engagement, so any group that gets denied that opportunity loses out on the chance to drink that elixir.Such bans are unheard of in the U.S., but before Americans get too smug, a colleague (thanks, Valerie Hans!) pointed out that many states offer exemptions to seniors. In Texas, for instance, anyone 70 or older can opt to be crossed off the jury rolls for the rest of their life. It’s not the same as a ban, but it is at least a nudge, or even enticement, to opt out of the jury system.
Bottom line: Don’t pass up a chance to serve on a jury, lest you age-out of the system.

About jgastil

John Gastil is Head and Professor in the Department of Communication Arts and Sciences at The Pennsylvania State University, where he specializes in political deliberation and group decision making.
This entry was posted in Juries around the world, Jury structure and reform, Social/political impact of juries, Summoning juries. Bookmark the permalink.

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