Threlkeld: Juries, not referenda

Simon Threlkeld has shared the full text of his 1998 article in Social Policy journal. A PDF version is here.

A Blueprint for Democratic Law­ Making: Give Citizen Juries the Final Say

Simon Threlkeld


Simon Threlkeld is a Canadian lawyer with his own law practice in Toronto; he has been on the steering committees of various social∙ change organizations such as the social justice­ oriented Law Union of Ontario.

In jurisdictions from California to Switzerland, citizens have the right to initiate binding referendum votes by getting enough petition signatures. Unfortunately, referenda are a drastically flawed way to give citizens a final say in law­making. Referenda are ill­-suited for the informed decision-­making necessary for meaningful democracy and are heavily skewed in favor of wealth and power. A different approach is needed.

“Juries” or “jury assemblies” are the most effective and optimal way to give citizens a final say about laws. By a “jury” or “jury assembly,” I mean a group of citizens randomly chosen from the citizenry and convened to make an informed decision. Juries are chosen by random selection because that is the best way to get a representative cross-­section of the citizenry. Each citizen has the same chance and right to be chosen as any other.

A jury is well suited for making an informed decision because the jurors can meet face to face and work full time for the days, weeks, or months needed to become fully informed about the matter at hand. Jurors are paid so they can afford to serve full time.

By combining a capacity to make an informed decision with being a representative cross-­section of the citizens, a jury gives expression to the informed will of the citizenry­ – the highest democratic mandate that a law can have.
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