Is Jury Service Appropriate for People Living With Dementia?
Updated: Dec 9, 2021
A couple of weeks ago, I received a letter from my local Council asking me to check that the information they held about me on the electoral register was correct. I put the letter aside for a while as not that important.
Nothing had changed, so I had nothing to report.
Then I took a closer look at the letter. One of the fields said "Aged 76 or over (exempt from jury service". Suddenly, I was worried. Would I be expected to perform jury service, even though my short term memory is unreliable?
How could I be expected to retain the facts and legal arguments presented over one, or a number of days so that I could participate in what might be a protracted debate at the end of the hearing that could decide on a person's guilt or innocence. How would "justice" be served by having ME on a jury?
So I decided to try and find out more about what provisions have been made to account for those of us living with dementia who may be called for jury service, and whether we can apply for exemption through the electoral register.
What is Jury service?
It's your civic duty. When someone has been charged with doing something illegal, they’ll have to go to a court where all the evidence surrounding what happened will be looked at. The Judge will oversee everything, but it’s a group of 12 people chosen at random, the jurors, who’ll decide whether the defendant is guilty or not.
Who is eligible?
Under the Juries Act 1974, to qualify for jury service, a person must be: between the ages of 18 and 70 years old; registered to vote in parliamentary or local government elections; a registered citizen in the UK, the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man for at least five years since their 13th birthday.
What are my chances of being called?
The chances of being called for Jury Service actually vary depending on where you live. In England and Wales, the chance is 35%. Only about half of those people will spend any time in court.
In Scotland, the chances are much higher at 95%. Of those people, only 30% will actually be in court as part of a jury.
The difference in chance is because in Scotland juries are made up of 15 people, while in England and Wales the jury is only made up of 12. Scotland also typically asks a lot more people per required jury compared to England and Wales.
So what's the problem?
Well, as far as I'm concerned, the problem is very straightforward. As things stand, a diagnosis of dementia alone does not disqualify me from being able to do jury service. Instead it is about whether you can fulfil the role, and crucially whether you have the mental capacity needed to be a juror. This is as you will need to make decisions as a juror and decide whether you believe the person to be guilty or not guilty. To have mental capacity to make this decision I will need to:
Understand the information relevant to the decision – this will depend upon the case, but will be the facts and details of the case as outlined to me in court
Retain the information long enough to make the decision – the court case may last days, or weeks and so I will need to be able to remember the information relevant to the decision for this length of time, for example I may need to remember what a witness says on the first day of a trial as this will aid me in making the decision at the end of the trial
Weigh up the information to make the decision – this is where I will consider all the information put before me in the trial to decide whether for example the person is guilty or not guilty
Communicate my decision – I will need to tell others what I have decided, this can be in many forms including verbally, in writing or sign language.
I cannot ask for an exception from jury service until I am summoned for jury service by the Jury Central Summoning Bureau. I must then Make my case and present them with supporting documentation. They will then make a decision based on that case, but this will exclude me only once, and I may be selected again in the future. It's almost as if the Jury Central Summoning Bureau believe that Dementia can get better over time! Well, I really don't want the trauma of having to go through the rigmarole of proving the existence of my dementia on what may be multiple occasions, so i will be investigating the possibility of having a flag put on my electoral record NOW so that it is over and done with the minimum amount of stress and heartache. I had always hoped to be called for jury service, so that I could play a part in our justice system as a good citizen, but I know in my heart that I would not now be capable of retaining the quantity and quality of detailed information needed to reliably evaluate and estimate a person's guilt or innocence with the required accuracy. So there would be no proper justice meted out in any trial that had me as a juror.
So what next?
Well, I'll be contacting the Jury Central Summoning Bureau next week, hoping to gain more clarity about how they make their decisions, whether I can claim exemption BEFORE I am called and why I might have to repeat any exemption process for further calls to jury service. Watch this space... Update 20/09/2021 I phoned the Jury central summoning bureau this morning, and was told that there is nothing they can do as they get all of their eligibility information from the electoral register, and that I should give them a call. I then phoned my local Council and spoke with the people who maintain the electoral register. They told me that there was nothing they could do because they are not allowed to hold any medical information, and that I should contact the Jury central summoning bureau! Next stop? Not sure really. Probably my MP.
Thanks to Bindi Dhesi, Alzheimer’s Society, Dementia Voice Lead for North East, Yorkshire & Lincolnshire and the Alzheimer's Society Knowledge Team for their help in information gathering.