The Jury

Copyright © Larry Johnson 2019

One of my favourite writers, G.K. Chesterton, once wrote an interesting essay titled ‘The Twelve Men’. Ladies will have to excuse the title as the essay was written in the early Twentieth Century when women didn’t enjoy the equality now observed. In his essay he explained that the benefit of the jury was that its members were not trained in the intricacies of court procedure. His premise was that the trained professionals perform the same rituals so many times that they often lose their sense of things. That the minds of lawyers and judges may become tainted by the daily replay of details relating to the waywardness of humankind, overlooking nuances in this or that case, which may be the difference between the decision of innocence or guilt. We may sometimes see a similar tendency in other professions. It is possible that a doctor may see so many cases of influenza that the case of pneumonia is missed. Or that a tiler tiles so many showers that the last undertaking is missing the corner grout. This is not to single out doctors and tilers, as the same may apply to other fields of endeavour. Sometimes the eyes and the mind become stale with the repetition.

Chesterton’s point is this; that fresh eyes and ears may be more objective in determining the freedom or incarceration of an individual. However, the learned essayist was writing at a different time to ours and much has changed. For a start I doubt that a similar level of common sense is prevalent today as it was then. I worry also about the irrationality of many of society’s members today. Chesterton seemed to feel that the common person in his time understood the other’s circumstance, therefore resulting in a more balanced judgement. Whereas the commoner of contemporary culture may well only have an interest in his or her own state of affairs. What I allude to is the shortage of empathy in the modern world. There was perhaps a time when the community would question as to why little Johnny stole the biscuits from the general store; endeavouring then to find the root cause and pursue remedial action of benefit to both he and his fellow citizens. In our modern world his fellow citizens may only request that the remedial action is convenient and beneficial to themselves.

To investigate further the premise proposed by Chesterton as relates to contemporary society, it may be worthwhile examining the way the modern mind is formed as opposed to how it was in that era. At the turn of the Twentieth Century there was little technological distraction as we now have. Common folk occupied their time with tasks of work and pursuing activities that required some thought, dexterity and resulted in some intellectual improvement. Aside from their daily work they sought recreation in communal activity, socialising, reading, building or making things for their own use or that of others. The activities were valuable and, in a sense, seemed to have had their own work ethic attached; enjoyable but taken seriously and undertaken with thought and purpose. A couple of examples may assist. Do we think the wooden stool made today will last as long as one made a hundred years ago? My experience says not. Would the wooden chess board and pieces made today endure as those made at the turn of the Twentieth Century? My inclination is in the negative. In any case, such individuals were no doubt physically and mentally active, with their efforts producing benefits for others and themselves.

We advance to modern times and find a plethora of activities undoubtedly far surpassing the choices of yesteryear. But what are these choices? The prevailing options, more often than not, turn toward the sedentary and include technological gazing by way of computer games, often played alone, or perhaps the reality television show. I do not deny that some computer games require and improve logical thinking and dexterity of mind. But many of them already existed in hard copy e.g. puzzles, chess etc. For me the hard copy is easier on the eyes. Moreover, many are solitary in nature and being quite addictive may lead to loss of social skills. It is a thought worth considering that we can learn the lessons of life from the experiences of others as well as our own.  Depending on which part of our beloved earth the reader is from, the television (or streaming as we now have) may consist of such wondrous intellectual contributions as ‘The Bachelorette’, ‘Gogglebox’ or other like production. Am I being facetious? You may wager your last dollar on the fact! I deeply apologise for any hurt to viewers of the aforementioned, but if you are one you are doing yourselves a great disservice and selling your intelligence short. It is this type of nonsense that dulls rather than enhances the mind. At best some may hoodwink themselves into the idea that this is some intellectual exercise to expand their knowledge of human thought and behaviour, at worst it is descent to scandalous soap opera. Truly, I often wonder if we wouldn’t be better off without the television and its technologically advanced successors.

In any case, before I inflict too much distress on myself, we should return to the subject at hand and the reliability of the modern jury as opposed to that institution as it was in prior times. My personal declaration is that I doubt whether our modern society is mature enough to consistently appoint fair and balanced minded jurors. Opponents will assert that the jury is a safeguard against the possibility of corrupt or incompetent judges? I am certainly aware of that prospect, and the surety of a verdict placed in the hands of a sole arbiter could never be guaranteed. However, if I ever had the misfortune to find myself in the court of justice I would rather take my chances with a judge rather than a group of people, some of whom have filled their minds with shows like ‘Gogglebox’ and the like. Juries aren’t beyond the wayward decision. My country of Australia has witnessed recent examples.

Another assertion may be that jurors should be selected from the senior ranks of society. In this way we would alleviate the possibility of immaturity. Here I will have make disclosure of my age. The group we would currently be referring to is the ‘Baby Boomer’ generation: my generation. My reply to such a suggestion could only be – Are you daffy? To have all jurors selected from my cohort. I think not. A generation that created all the mayhem of the 1960s and 1970s. I shudder!

Where does all this leave us? Well, it is apparent that the current judicial system is unlikely to be dispensed with, so, the only alternative I see is to ensure that our jurors possess healthier minds. Hitherto, I call for a boycott of all visual and auditory examples of dull mindedness. The less that participate in such tripe, perhaps the more likely it is that production of the same will be abandoned. Society may then fill its mind with matters and pursuits worthwhile, providing juries with balanced minds and common sense filled intellects.  If the learned Chesterton had been born some one hundred years later, it is conceivable that his essay ‘The Twelve Men’ may have been written quite differently. But with a change in direction in how we satisfy our senses, perhaps it will then be as fitting for our time as it was for his.

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