Saturday, June 18, 2005



"Skewed"

According to the Dominion-Post this morning, there is "concern" over the increased number of retirees and beneficiaries serving on juries. Since the 1999 law change which allowed over-65-year-olds to be selected, their numbers have "skyrocketed" to 3000 a year. Meanwhile the number of beneficiaries has reportedly tripled to 700 a year. And according to Philip Morgan, a Hamilton-based QC, such "skewed numbers" are "reducing the pool of available common sense".

The first point is that the latter comment is nothing but snobbery on Morgan's part. There's no evidence whatsoever that the poor or the old are any less endowed with "common sense" or the ability to judge facts than anybody else. I'm sure it makes perfect sense to a lawyer on a high salary, but from here it looks like Morgan is indulging in the same sort of bigoted mythology which has caused aristocrats throughout the ages to pooh-pooh democracy on the grounds that the poor couldn't possibly know how to run a country.

The second point is that the numbers aren't "skewed" - or at least, not in the way Morgan thinks. Juries are drawn from the electoral roll, which gives a total pool of about 3 million eligible jurors. There are around half a million pensioners, so you'd expect around one juror in six to be over 65. Instead, we find the rate of participation is only half that - 3,000 out of around 36,000. It's a similar story with beneficiaries - there are around 300,000 "working-age" beneficiaries according to Don Brash, so if they were properly represented, one juror in ten should be on a benefit. Instead, it's less than one in fifty. Whichever way you look at it, these groups are woefully underrepresented in juries - not over-represented as Morgan claims.

Pensioners and beneficiaries are part of the commuity, and thus deserve to be representd in our justice system. The problem isn't that there are too many of them, but that there aren't enough. Perhaps Morgan should actually do the maths next time before opening his mouth..?

3 comments:

Your criticisms miss the point somewhat. Presumably what is needed for a successful jury (i.e. one that utilizes the wisdom of crowds) is not a representative group but a diverse one. If young voices are being crowded out by old ones, then that's bad news no matter how representative of the general population it might be.

Any homogenous group would "reduce the pool of common sense", simply because it would lack the variety of knowledge and experiences that a more diverse group can offer. That's no insult to the poor or old specifically -- it would be just as much a problem if the jury predominantly comprised rich students.

(I don't know if that was Morgan's point. But if not, it should have been.)

Posted by Richard : 6/18/2005 05:11:00 PM

Young voices aren't being crowded out by old ones, or workers by beneficiaries. In fact, the opposite is occuring.

Morgan is right to raise the issue of the diversity of juries - it is being narrowed, but in a way exactly the oposite to the way he is suggesting.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 6/18/2005 05:31:00 PM

I agree.

But, moralising aside, I can't help wondering if the 700 figure for beneficiaries is some kind of typo.

The '99 Law commission survey (www.lawcom.govt.nz/documents/publications/PP37Vol2.pdf) had 3.2% of respondants as beneficiaries. If that had "tripled", wouldn't the result be closer to 3600?

Posted by Lyndon : 6/19/2005 07:16:00 PM