Page last updated at 11:34 GMT, Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Jury service plan to end age limit and include over-70s

Jury summons papers
Working jurors would "to some extent" be replaced by retired jurors

The over-70s could become jurors in England and Wales if a government proposal to save money and make juries more "inclusive" goes ahead.

The Ministry of Justice is consulting on plans to raise the current upper age limit of 70 or abolish it altogether.

The move would save on the costs of having to compensate younger jurors who have to take time off work.

The report conceded some older jurors had shown poorer recall and there was a risk of "less competent juries".

The consultation document said in considering changing the upper age limit there were three main areas to examine - inclusiveness, competence and practicality.

[The current upper age limit] is another of those age-based barriers that turn older people into second-class citizens and prevent them from making a positive contribution to our communities
Michelle Mitchell, Age Concern and Help the Aged

It said juries needed to be seen as being representative of the whole population, but that inclusiveness should not outweigh the importance of competence.

"There is some evidence of poorer performance by the oldest jurors in respect of recall of case facts and the judge's instructions.

"That and other performance-reducing factors such as impaired sight and hearing and poor health generally indicate a risk that an older national jury pool would produce less competent juries," said the report.

Loss of earnings

In practical terms, having people in their 70s, 80s and 90s in the jury pool could create administrative costs, such as the need to process more paperwork for those who need to be excused on medical grounds.

But the Ministry of Justice paper said using older people would "to some extent replace working jurors with retired jurors, thereby producing a financial saving".

Both government and employers would benefit by having fewer people to compensate for loss of earnings, or to pay salaries for those on jury service.

"We believe that the financial benefits of raising or abolishing the limit substantially outweigh the financial costs," it said.

The paper is looking at a number of options, including raising the age limit by between five and 10 years or abolishing it altogether. It is also considering a right of self-excusal for the over-70s if the limit does go up.

'Positive contribution'

Justice Minister Claire Ward said in making any changes towards including more people in juries "the interests of justice must be protected".

Charity director for Age Concern and Help the Aged Michelle Mitchell welcomed the proposal.

"This is another of those age-based barriers that turn older people into second-class citizens and prevent them from making a positive contribution to our communities.

"The composition of juries should be a true reflection of our society but the current age limit is clearly leaving older people under-represented, especially as our society is ageing fast."

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