`Thou art Blue Peter . • •
Ihad thought to write about Lord Denn- ing this week but he will have to wait. The debate which he has started is about whether, on balance, it might not be a good idea to exempt blacks from jury service. This seems to me a worthy subject for debate, with reasonable arguments to be Put in good faith on both sides, but it was not the point he was trying to make in his book What Next in the Law? (Butterworth, £9.95)• At least, I do not think this is what he was trying to say. Since the book has now been suppressed by the threat of a libel action (just as Lord Denning himself sup- pressed my Election Address under the threat of a prison sentence so that nobody in North Devon learned why I was standing for Parliament at the last general election) We may never learn what the Master of the Rolls wished to tell us. Ah well That's showbusiness. But from various reviews which appeared before the blacks got at him, I deduce that Lord Denning was trying to say something quite different — that not only the blacks, b. ut also the British people as a whole are no longer fit for jury service, in the sense that they can no longer be relied upon to pro- duce a just or reasonable verdict. This is something which I have argued for the last six Years, and crops up with appalling regularity in this column every time I attend a inrY trial. Occasionally one reads in the have of trials where the jury seems to nave reached a sensible verdict, but my own experience leads me to assume that the newspapers have got it wrong. Every jury I nave watched has returned the wrong ver- dict.
Nor do judges sitting on their own score much better. This leads me to my second Point. It is normal to blame the infamous :Juries Act of 1974 which enlisted all the Idlest, most spendthrift and villainous members of society to sit in judgment on their fellow citizens. Certainly, the Juries Act made the collapse of the jury system in- evitable, but even if it were now repealed and the former jury qualifications reimpos- ed I doubt whether things would be much better. There is a new middle class come up from the working class without any par- ticular anxiety to assimilate itself into the culture of the old' middle class, but rather with a determination to preserve the pro- letarian standards and outlook of its youth. in. some cases, it is characterised by a con- scious loathing for the liberal bourgeois '-ulture which produced it. These people are to be met in the pages of modern novels like „ido „avid Lodge's Row Far Can You Go? Lodge's 1980) and also, if they or their wives the to any particular pressure group, in me correspondence columns of the Guar- dian, New Society and similar publications. I am not sure how many of them there are, but it only takes three wrong-headed jurors to wreck a verdict, and they are certainly not fit for jury service. Unfortunately, none of these people is readily identifiable in the way that blacks are. To the extent that we are talking about a general deterioration of the British race, we must also admit that quite a few people from respectably educated backgrounds have also, since the 1960s, identified themselves with attitudes which make them unfit for jury service. Our problem is to define those groups which might still be able to produce 12 good persons and true. A simple rule like the disqualification of all Guardian readers would make it too easy for those like myself with no particular wish to serve on a jury. Former standards of honesty, in- telligence, competence and fairmindedness undoubtedly do survive in our society: the City of London, whose invisible earnings, month after month, rescue our balance of payments from the vile incompetence of British industry — but the City also con- tains a fair number of crooks; the medical profession, which somehow manages to keep the Health Service ticking over despite the deliberate sabotage of its ancillary `workers' — but doctors are generally too busy; the armed forces, a few (not many) London taxi-drivers . . . and finally, or so I would venture to suggest, the Church of England. I celebrated Pentecost this year in the Church of St Peter and St Paul in Combe Florey. If the Pope could go to a Church of England service in Canterbury Cathedral the day before, I saw no reason to deny myself this pleasure on Whit Sunday. In fact, watching the two of them together on television the day before, I felt a sudden, unreasonable burst of affection for Dr Runcie, with his honest, decent English face speaking rather in the manner of our Greatest Living Englishman Mr Ian McDonald (whom he strangely resembles — I wonder if they are by any chance related). The sermon in Combe Florey, delivered by a retired canon, was an in- teresting and well-informed dissertation on the great filioque controversy which split the Eastern and Western Churches after 1014. The canon's point, suitable enough for Pentecost, was that religious teaching should never be too precise. He convinced me. Whatever misgivings one might have felt about the Pope's visit as seeming to con- done all the disgusting things which are go- ing on in the English Catholic Church, there can be no doubt that the Pope's visit to Canterbury Cathedral was indeed an historic occasion, and a glory to our age in exactly the same way that His Holiness's visit to the replusive Catholic cathedral in Liverpool was a non-event and a disgrace. How marvellous it would have been if this holy and brave man had taken the oppor- tunity to announce his conversion to the Church of England.
The day before, outside Westminster Cathedral, the Duke of Norfolk told us that he hoped before he died to take Com- munion from Dr Runcie. I do not know what is holding him back. For some years it has seemed to me that there was no longer any logical reason to prefer the 'Roman' rite unless one happened to find it more congenial. Whatever claims the Roman Church once had to greater unity, holiness, universality and apostolic continuity were deliberately jettisoned, one by one, after the last Vatican Council, creating what Archbishop Worlock calls 'a new sort of Church' — in fact a succession of national churches. Now that the Pope has visited Canterbury Cathedral and formally em- braced the Archbishop, I see no further reason to wait around for some deal to be struck, watching Mrs Shirley Williams take Communion twice a day in Merseyside Porta- kabins after one or another of the arch- diocese's bizarre love-feasts, or listening to Cardinal O'Fiaich ask himself when a murderer is not a murderer, a suicide not a suicide. I do not think that Cardinal O'Fiaich would make a very suitable can- didate for jury service. Those who watched the Pope's visit to Southwark Cathedral on Friday afternoon might be excused for supposing that the Catholic population of Britain was almost exclusively composed of disabled wheelchair and stretcher cases. In fact this is not so, although in recent years it has tended to specialise in this section of what it gloatingly calls the community. Plainly there are those who will always find even the new Catholic services more congenial than the traditional Catholic mass, as it stir- vives in many Anglican parishes: sick peo- ple, who may feel they are especially cared for; simple people who are flattered to be addressed in babyish language, and certain sorts of children suckled on Blue Peter and condensed milk; community freaks and left-wingers, who feel that this is what the lower classes best respond to. One of the most important lessons of the Christian religion is that we are all equal in the sight of God, even the most derelict and abject among us has an immortal soul. It does not follow from this that we are all equally well qualified for jury service. In an engaging interview at the beginning of his archiepiscopate, Dr Runcie told the Spec- tator that the Church of England was essen- tially a conservative, middle-class institu- tion. Let us settle for that, and let the rest of them follow Monsignor Worlock's 'new sort of religion' to wherever it may lead. Jury service, 1 would suggest, should be restricted to communicant members of the Established Church.