Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Practical Magic

Some thoughts on our modern society for you all now. Given that everyone seems to accept the fact that we must have a price tag hanging off all the bits that make us up (as a society as well as individuals) then there are a couple of things we could do (I humbly suggest) to make the whole thing just a bit more bearable. The first thought I had was about jury service. The way this suddenly topical area of civic life works could be radically changed without any additional cost, and could even be cheaper - taking into account the total cost of administering the thing. I don't think the system of trial by jury is going away any time soon, so my big idea is: why not have all juries selected from the ranks of the unemployed? It is of course possible to be selected for jury service now if one is unemployed, so the idea would actually not be so radical, and the benefits are obvious:

1) No cost to employers for missing or covering employees.
2) A clear benefit to the self-esteem of unemployed people in being able to use their time more productively.
3) Unemployed people would receive travel and food expenses and a minimal amount for childcare as they currently do anyway. This would be a considerable improvement on their jobseekers allowance, and would be 'cost neutral' to HM Courts Service, which is as much a victim of austerity as any other part of government. It is important to consider the whole cost to UK plc, and weighed along with the savings to employers by not having to accommodate their staff on jury service, would demonstrate a tangible cost benefit when taken in the round.
4) Skills learned on jury service (rhetoric, persuasion and negotiating skills, a better understanding of legal matters as just a few examples) would be very useful in the job market.

What's not to like about this plan? I suppose one might say that the unemployed may be prejudiced against - say - business people in specific cases; though this is a rather weak criticism to say the least. There are a few details to consider, such as the selection process. I would suggest that selection methods are not changed, but that those in employment may be excused simply by sending a letter verifying that they are employed. This would be easier than effectively means testing everyone prior to selection, I think. Second, if an appointed juror receives a job offer whilst already sitting on a case, then the prospective employer will be required to keep the offer open until jury service is completed. If there are any strong reasons why this should not happen, then I would be glad to hear them.

Extending the idea further, could not the same thing (or similar) be done with the appointment of magistrates? The role is currently voluntary, with the only entry restrictions around age (18-65), 'good hearing' - whatever that means - and concentration skills; no major (or indeed collection of minor) criminal convictions; no driving ban in the last 5-10 years (which is it? Five or ten, there is quite a difference) or having been declared bankrupt. The duty requires a minimum of 13 days' (or 26 half days') court attendance per year. All of this need not exclude the unemployed, and for the reasons above, it seems to me that this would be a highly desirable course of action.

Of course none of this will ever happen, because unemployed people are viewed with intense suspicion and (oddly, given the widespread deprivation in this country) an increasing amount of animosity. Ah well.

The jury is still (just about) out on our title challenge after last night's close one. Without Kun, I thought we performed well enough, especially as the first half drew to a close. We should have had at least two more, but there were a couple of scares when we almost fluffed our lines. Barnsley next up in the FA Cup and then back to business with a visit to Goodison of all places, while the Rags lose to Reading after their world stopping final loss against the Madrillenos. Still there, but the pulse is ever fainter...

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