My wife has just (almost) completed a bout of jury service. She has not been used, and has spent a fortnight basically hanging around. I have served as a juror twice, and each was a frustrating experience. I can’t go into details – it’s not allowed. What I can reveal is that one trial was a complete waste of time, such that the judge stopped it halfway through. Another was dragged into three or four extra days by testimony that was irrelevant to the crime in question, basically saying the accused was brutalized by the police after being arrested for the offence. A third case involved the jury taking about 15 minutes in Miss Marple mode working out that the bloke the defendant claimed had committed the crime could not possibly have done so, in a way that seemed to elude the barristers presenting the prosecution case over several days.
We are now told that the Queen has expressed annoyance that four possible terrorists have spent seven years appealing against extradition. Latest news: despite being turned down by the European Court, the accused have won another stay. I don’t know the ins and outs of these cases, except to note the defence claim that the defendants should be tried in Britain, as if those accused of offences get to choose who tries them. At least they haven’t taken the Julian Assange angle, that the accused should be able to decide which police force interviews them and where.
But seven years is an awful long time to resolve things. It seems the only sphere where this sort of delay is acceptable is the law, or associated activity such as public enquiries. The Savile Enquiry into Bloody Sunday (1972) was established in 1998, completed its hearings in 2004 and reported in 2010. It covered controversial issues that had to confront obfuscation by some of the parties, but the pattern happens even on less significant levels. The BBC today reports that those implicated in the phone-hacking scandal will face trial next September.
Next September ?? What can possibly justify delays of this sort ? Elsewhere, time horizons are shortened so that (e.g.) a new car can be designed and manufactured in a very short time. The P-51 Mustang, the finest fighter of the Second World War, was rolled out 102 days after the delivery contract was signed. I am no management guru, but was part of a team that opened six new colleges, closed thirty sixth-forms and twelve adult education divisions, in the process reallocating more than a thousand staff and countless students (who kept doing their current work throughout !), all in 14 months. Every time I visit my old London stamping grounds, I see new buildings. Opticians and telecom suppliers used to take weeks and months to deliver: now it is instant, or a few days. We are living in a just-in-time society in every area except maybe one.
Several of my family members are employed in the law, so maybe this is a difficult as well as an obvious question. At a time when there are concerns about cutting legal aid to poor defendants, is there truly no way we can reduce legal costs and delays ?