Category Archives: justice

On Voting, And Emma Nicholson


“If voting could change anything, they’d make it illegal.” Old saying, from the 1960s counterculture.
The latest eruption in the ongoing culture wars, fuelled by Twitter as ever, is against Baroness (Emma) Nicholson of Winterbourne, who has been stripped of her largely honorary post on the committee that awards the Booker Prize. Her late husband set up the award many years ago.
Her crime was to vote, again some years ago, against the legal establishment of gay marriage. Various authors, one of them gay, say this now makes her unsuitable.
Not entirely clear how this connects, especially as this is an honorary post, as I have said. I know a little about Nicholson. She appears to be a typical Shires Tory lady. I doubt she and I agree on anything much but I have to respect her views. She has done a lot of good work for the disabled.
The key point here, and one largely missed I think, is the word vote. Nicholson has been vilified and sacked because, in a democratic vote some years ago, she voted in a way that some now disapprove of. This is how democracy is supposed to work, a free and fair ballot on any subject, and to punish someone for voting the wrong way, some years later, negates the whole concept of democracy, then. And sets, I suggest, a very dark precedent.
For a fair discussion of all this, see today’s column by my fellow Suffolk resident, former colleague and a very brave journalist, Janice Turner.

On the 1960s, and progress

To the V&A for the You Say You Want A Revolution exhibition on the
years 1966 to 1970. There is a strict ban on photography. Which in the
spirit of the age I ignore, surreptitiously.
It is surprisingly moving. I was 10 in 1967 and have no excuse not to
remember it. Hair (actually 1968), Magical Mystery Tour… I remember
them. The 60s are a decade much derided, and there was a lot of
silliness about, well documented in the exhibition. I recall it all.
And does one really need to see the frock coat worn by Jimi Hendrix’s
drummer? More than one actually.
It was quite revealing, though. A lot of things that made an awful lot
of people’s lives an awful lot better started there. Women’s rights,
gay rights, black people’s rights, environmentalism.
You walk around the exhibition with the headphones on playing the
appropriate music. Which is then available in a 3 CD set. And there’s
a souvenir book.
The revolution will not be televised. It will be available in the gift
shop after your visit.

On Juries

A punch-up at a crack den. A headbutt outside a downmarket teenage nightclub. An alleged sexual assault in a public lavatory.

I have been on jury service, yet again, another unedifying trawl through the lower depths of our society. We know these people exist, leading lives of moral squalor, addiction, poverty, random inexplicable acts of violence. You are lucky if you are required to convict a defendant you don’t feel sorry for. That at least gives a degree of peace of mind, that someone is being punished who deserves it.

The eventual sentences often reflect the pathetic background of those convicted, people to whom life has dealt such a poor hand that any further punishment seems unnecessary. You can’t fine them, they haven’t any money. Their crimes aren’t worth the cost to the public purse of a jail sentence – though I certainly hope one of those we tried sees the inside of a cell before too long.

I am always struck by the diligence with which the vast majority of jurors approach the task. No one can enjoy it – the evidence is boringly repetitive, and the cases are conducted at the pace of the slowest juror. In between, there is endless waiting around at what looks like a huge doctors’ waiting room, overheated and stuffy, until your name is called. And constant unexplained interruptions while legal counsel argue and you sit in a small room outside.

If you expect, should you be accused of a serious criminal offence, that your case will be heard by a cross-section of people much like you, then you have to be prepared to contribute when asked. It is part of the social contract. And if I am ever wrongly accused of anything, I want my case to be heard by some of the people I have spent the past fortnight with. Not by some faceless, unaccountable lawyer.

And should you be rightly accused, guilty as sin, opt for a jury trial. The dice may well fall in your favour.