The Jury is Out

Now, the question is this: if you were accused in court of doing some nefarious deed, would you want to see me on the jury bench?

Well, that is not quite the question. The question is really whether or not you think that clergy should have an automatic right to be exempt from jury service if they wish it. Currently the law in Scotland is that clergy can be called for jury service but they have the right (as do a small number of people in other roles) to opt out if they choose.

The thing is, the Scottish “government” is currently carrying out a consultation exercise asking precisely this question. The consultation ends on 11 December and I was surprised to hear about it yesterday. It is the kind of thing that I think the General Synod Office might have alerted clergy to.

It is actually quite a tricky question. Undoubtedly, one wants juries to be representative of the general population. The rational behind the exemption clauses is twofold. Firstly people are automatically exempt from jury service if they have certain roles within the criminal justice system. Secondly, some people can opt out because they have roles in society that are deemed to be such that it serves the public good more to have them at work than sitting in court on a jury.

Clergy are complicated. (I know, I know). They can be involved in all kinds of ways both officially and unofficially in the justice system. Some people would think their job very necessary and others in society think them to be parasites.

Would it be acceptable to you to find that a particular priest was unable to take a funeral because they were on jury service?

Most people would accept that clergy need time away on holiday. (Though this is sometimes resented deeply too). It is also pretty hard for a lot of clergy to find cover at the moment too.

I think I am in favour of keeping the current system but I find it a harder judgement than when I first started to think about it.

The questions that the consultation raise are very interesting though and something that all kinds of people connected with the church might think about responding to.

I note in passing that Fr Dougal does not seem to be chosing to opt out this week. He might have a thing or two to say about this topic, though not of course about his actual experience.

I also note that the other roles which have the opt out include: members of the armed forces, MPs, MSPs, doctors, dentists, nurses, midwives, pharmacists and vets.

The consultation document is here. The relevent section is here.

What do you think? As the court hears what you are accused of and you raise your eyes nervously towards the jury, do you want to see me, in a clerical collar perhaps, sitting there?