Disabled people and Jury Service…

A friend has been summoned for jury service, and it set me thinking. Partly because it’s widely thought to be trial, not by one’s peers, but by 12 people too dumb to get out of jury service, but mainly because my own number may come up at some point.

Looking around the web revealed that some disabled people think they are under-represented on juries – though I’m not sure how they know – and that courts should be modified to ensure access for all disabled people. Well, given that many courts are in old and purpose-built buildings, that’s not always feasible. Let’s consider, because it’s something I am an expert in, the question of me, and how I’d cope.

Before we do, let me say that I was in court about this time last year. I went in my manual wheelchair. I had to get out of it and walk through the metal-detector at the entrance, and what would have happened if I hadn’t been able to, I’ve no idea. With hindsight, I should have refused on principle. The thing is, though, my chair, with a bag on the back, was completely ignored, even though it could have carried enough C4 to demolish the entire building. When I pointed this out to the police officer on duty, he said Oh, don’t worry, there are sniffer devices all over the building. Bullshit. I checked, there weren’t. Do they automatically assume wheelchair user = stupid? It seems so. So here’s a tip, if you want to blow up… No, let’s not go there. But it is a colossal security lapse. If they have explosives sniffer devices – which I seriously doubt – they should be deployed at the street entrance, not when a potential bomber is loose in the building. Now, to continue…

My seating at home is modified so that I can sit with minimal pain; that, at least is the intention, though it’s not 100% successful. Sitting in a typical jury box chair, then, simply isn’t something I’d even consider. Likewise, getting my large, heavy, powerchair into the jury box would, I should think, be impossible. As would taking breaks every few hours to take my meds, some of which can impair my ability to stay awake, so would probably have the same effect in court. Not to mention dealing with my urge incontinence and/or outbreaks of coughing.

My ability to concentrate is impaired, too, often considerably, partly because of my ME/CFS and partly because of almost constant pain

The official guide to jury service completely ignores the question of disability, and medication, too. Which is unfortunate, because meds can affect a person’s ability to function at 100% of their abilities. The closest the guide gets to disability is this bit, and that’s just hopelessly inadequate:-

What if I don’t feel well before I reach the court?

Please call your jury manager at the court as soon as possible. In some cases the trial may have to be postponed for a day. Delaying a trial is extremely costly and is not a good use of public money. For this reason, it should be avoided if possible.

That makes it pretty clear that calling in sick won’t be well received, but what if feeling unwell is a person’s default state, as it is with me? Many disabled people, of course, don’t feel ill but, equally, many feel like shit 24/7. What are we supposed to do, call in sick every day, until we get dumped off the jury? Or busted for contempt! Sorry, that’s just not good enough. Oh, and by the way, I’ve read that as jury service is a civic duty, it pre-empts your rights as a disabled person. So much for the DDA!

I take rather a lot of drugs (16 individual drugs, most taken several times a day), and all my analgesics warn me not to drive or operate machinery. If I am impaired to such a degree, I am surely not a fit person to serve on a jury yet this, too, gets no consideration in the guide. Nor does the question of what happens when, like me, the potential juror is mostly housebound. With the best will in the world, I cannot attend the crown court at 09.30. I’m doing well, most days, if I’m dressed by then.

I don’t think, either, that the judge would be too impressed when, every couple of hours, I haul out a pocketful of inhalers and a large spacer device, or had to leave the jury box to take my tablets (judging from the pictures in the guide you don’t get to take bottles of water into the jury box which, really, for everyone, is unacceptable).

None of this actually automatically excludes me from jury duty, but for the benefit of the defendant, I think it should. And maybe disabled people should serve on juries more than they currently appear to, but how many who want to serve are, like me, totally unsuited?

And, by the way, I have no desire to serve on a jury. That the judicial system has the right to hijack a minimum of 2 weeks, and maybe many months**, of a person’s life, often against their will and with total loss of earnings, is wholly wrong. And, really, just how much use is a juror who deeply resents being there?

I accept that everyone should be eligible for jury duty, but only the willing should be accepted (and there are more than enough people who see it as their duty as a citizen, rather than an unreasonable imposition, to make that work). We are, though, suck with the system we’ve got, but I firmly believe jury selection should also take into account what drugs, if any, a potential juror is taking, and what effect those drugs can have on their ability to pay close attention to the proceedings, and to render a fair verdict.

** For example, the Jubilee Line fraud trial ran for almost two years,  before the case collapsed in May 2005, and how many jurors, I wonder, were ruined, financially, after two years without pay, or made redundant when their employers got fed up? Employers are forced to allow employees time off for jury duty, but they are not obliged to pay them. Unfair dismissal, as a result of jury service, is an offence but, come on, if a firm can do without a person for months, even years, they are, by any definition, surplus to requirements.

NOTE: On this page you can download the document “Jurors with Disabilities or Special Needs“. However, it’s less than informative, and says, among not much else “If it is not possible to make the necessary adjustments e.g the layout of a listed building then your jury service may be transferred to a court nearby where adjustments can be made to suit your needs.” That implies that they will go to considerable lengths to compel a disabled person to  serve no matter how detrimental to them and the judicial process that might be. Screw that. Anyway my nearest crown court is in Liverpool, while I am not. Since public transport is a no-no, that means a hugely expensive taxi ride, and the trip through the Mersey Tunnel means double fair (a rip-off, as the passenger pays the tunnel tolls too). As I am unlikely to be able, and am certainly unwilling, to stump up what will be over £20 each way (you get reimbursed, but what happens to those of us on benefit who can’t afford spend that much money up front?), then we have a problem. And if they insist on sending me to another crown court – Chester, maybe – that’s over 20 miles each way, around £60 in taxi fares for the round trip, not including tip. In fact, as there’s a very good chance of the cab going back empty, they may well charge more, as the local taxi tariff doesn’t operate beyond 10 miles. As I believe I’ve already observed, screw that!

There is one ray of light, though, for those of us with ME/CFS. While I’ve been writing this I’ve learned that the fact that many of us have to go back to bed at somepoint during the day, will get us an exemption.

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2 thoughts on “Disabled people and Jury Service…

  1. I was recently summoned for the jury duty. My doctor told me the trial would be declared as mistrial if a juror becomes ill during the session. Since I live with severe to moderate ME/CFS and cannot sit through the session, he wrote a nice medical certificate for me.

    I hope I won’t be selected. Causing a mistrial is a too much responsibility…


    PS. I’m not sure if it is the same for the UK. I live in Australia.

    • Hi Rachel,

      It should be the same in the UK – in theory, at least as far as the doctor’s concerned. In practise they seem willing to go to extreme lengths to make people attend. From what I’ve been told, though, with ME/CFS, the need to rest/sleep during the day is a get out of jail free card here; logic says it should do the trick in Ox too. My advice, for anyone with ME/CFS who doesn’t need rest during the day, is lie.

      And Rachel, if your are selected, any resulting mistrial is on the court for selecting you – NOT on you. You’ve got enough things to worry about without that.


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