‘We spent almost two years sitting on a jury’

There has been some debate on this site regarding the optimal length of service for a political jury.  On the one hand most of those chosen by lot to participate will have had very little political experience, and will need a period of induction and this has led to suggestions for a service period of up to 2 years with overlapping tenure, so that at all times there will be jurors who will have served for at least a year to help guide new inductees. On the other hand others (including myself) argue for short ad hoc juries, allotted for each legislative bill, in order to ensure ongoing representativity (i.e. to combat the risk of jurors ‘going native’).

However the discussion has always been from the perspective of the system rather than the participants who, it is assumed, will go back to their normal lives once their service period has ended. But evidence from a recent fraud trial suggests this may be difficult if the service period is for a year or more. Jurors rarely talk about their court-room experience but four out of the twelve participants in this case have revealed how difficult the transition back to civilian life has been (three of the original 15-strong allotment dropped out, suggesting negative outcomes for nearly one half of the original sequestration). One of the jurors, ‘Julie’

returned to her job in a travel agency when the case finished, but quickly found herself struggling. Julie says: “I went back and did two days training and then I went two days into the shop. I’ve never been back since. I’ve not given it up yet. “I am going through the doctor and trying to get back into it. I’m still struggling. I just felt like I could not even hold a conversation.”

‘Paul’, a 51-year-old civil servant, also says he has had trouble going back to work.

“I’ve had to be retrained,” he says. “I’m still not into the swing of things yet. I’m not talking much when I go to work. “I think I was always talking before this trial, and now I am just sitting at my seat not really saying much.”

‘Emma’ worked in a fast food restaurant before she sat on the jury, and while she was away missed out on the chance of getting promoted to assistant manager. Emma says she suffered emotionally during the trial and was glad of the support from her fellow jurors.

Anne-Marie, the oldest of the jurors to speak to the BBC, has also struggled with returning to her work as a civil servant after the trial. The 57-year-old says:

“I’ve worked in the same place for 40 years, but I feel as if it is alien to me.” Like all the others she feels the experience of having “our lives taken over for 20 months” has changed her. She says: “It was a totally different way of life for 20 months, and then the day it finished you are back to what is supposed to be normal and it is difficult to adjust. “To be on my own now at work, it just feels strange. I’ve worked there for many years but I don’t feel I belong there at the moment.” Anne-Marie said she had been back at work for nine weeks but was still retraining. She says: “Everyone is very nice. It is nothing to do with work, it is just me personally. I don’t feel I belong there any more.”

Needless to say, these problems would be less likely to arise if ad hoc juries were allotted for individual legislative bills.

10 Responses

  1. > Needless to say, these problems would be less likely to arise if ad hoc juries were allotted for individual legislative bills.

    Needless to say, the exact opposite is true. If a single trial can last two years, it is clear that many individual bills require many months to properly evaluate, making the service on legislative juries many months long (unless the jury is to serve as no more than a rubber stamp).

    At the same, while people will likely be willing to take a few years off in order to take a hugely influential position such as being an MP, they are much less likely to be willing to do so when all the they get is an up or down vote on an arbitrary draft bill written by someone regarding some arbitrary issue picked by someone.

    Thus, again, the opposite of your conclusion is true: sortition should be applied to important visible positions like picking MPs, while legislative juries should only be used with crucial issues which naturally draw the attention of the populace at large. In those cases, of course, the allotted should also draft the bill rather than merely have an up-or-down vote.


  2. There is no doubt that the issue of the acceptable length of service in any body selected by lot is an issue which needs research and testing. When used for political decisions, juries, panels, and other assemblies are often envisaged as meeting with variable frequency and duration depending on the task they are addressing. Payment and other assistance to enable people to take part when selected also need to be addressed.

    The blueprint envisaged by Bouricius and quoted by David van Reybrouck, mentions six different bodies: a salaried agenda council some hundreds strong meeting full time for 3 years with a third rotated each year, proposing topics for legislation; ad hoc volunteer interest 12 strong panels proposing topic related legislation; a large policy jury of some hundreds, meeting over several days as required to vote on legislation, paid per diem; a salaried rules council of about 50 deciding on rules for legislation; a salaried full time oversight council of about 20 regulating the overall legislative process and dealing with complaints.

    So there is a wide range of possible approaches and tasks which could involve groups selected by lot. As a start it seems participatory budgeting is a well tried way in to involving citizens in direct decisions, and other trials such as the G1000 assemblies, either publicly funded or funded by donations, would give experience in the implementation and management of larger assemblies.I would love to see some of these approaches given a go in New Zealand.


  3. Also from that article:
    “The experience of sitting in silence for long periods and the responsibility of following a complex fraud trial has affected them all deeply and left some of them struggling to adapt to their normal lives.
    However, the four agree that despite those struggles, they are glad to have sat on the jury.”

    These jurors suffered psychological isolation, without the opportunity to engage in the process. A sortitioned legislature would be quite a different experience than that.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Yoram/John/David

    We can only speculate as to how individual legislative jurors would be affected by a long period of service and shouldn’t assume that randomly-selected persons (who may not have any particular interest in civic affairs) will necessarily find it enhances their life after their period of service is over. Even if we leave aside the unrepresentative nature of individual speech acts, it would be highly unlikely if more than a minority of members of a large randomly-selected assembly will be motivated (and sufficiently confident) to speak, so their experience will not be that different from a trial jury. Court rooms are hardly silent spaces, the issue is simply who gets to talk and who gets to listen. As for self-nominated volunteers (or even the small minority [c. 4%] of citizens who accept their allotted call), this is inimical to the statistical representativity that is the principal justification for sortition. And participatory budgeting has nothing to do with sortition, even though decisions are taken by self-selecting “citizens” (as opposed to representatives selected by voters). It strikes me that there’s an awful lot of conflation and wishful thinking associated with sortition advocacy, and this post was intended to provide a healthy dose of scepticism.


  5. Keith,
    You state that “statistical representativity …is the principal justification for sortition.” While I agree that is ONE of the important justifications that I look to (for at least the final up and down voting policy jury), there are many others, including the defensive feature of preventing an entrenched powerful minority from making all decisions, avoiding corruption such as from campaign contributions, the epistemic value of having a diverse “cross-section” of people, even if not a perfect statistical match, the non-partisan opportunity for genuine deliberation in search of win-win rather than competitive win-lose solutions, political equality (equal chance). Statistical accuracy is definitely YOUR principal motivation, but not of all sortition advocates. For example, many of these justifications encourage or require give and take discussion among members, which your model eschews.


  6. Terry,

    Sure, there are other benefits, but they don’t add up to much:

    preventing an entrenched powerful minority from making all decisions

    random decision making (absent statistical representativity) is hardly an improvement

    avoiding corruption

    ex ante only

    epistemic value of having a diverse “cross-section” of people

    this can be better attained by other means (crowd-sourcing, citizen initiative etc)

    genuine deliberation in search of win-win

    parliamentary unanimity generally leads to bad laws

    political equality (equal chance)

    the chance of being selected is miniscule


  7. Whatever the arguments for and against sortition, each society/country will need to test out what works for them, what range of individual conditions have to be fulfilled in order for people to be willing and able to participate. There are plenty of examples around the world which have been written up. Participatory budgeting has been found to be a good introduction where the issues are usually relatively local (what to spend a budget on) and where most, hopefully, people will have an idea or opinion to bring to the table.


  8. John,

    I’m not aware of any cases of the use of sortition in participatory budgeting (unless you are referring to the Zegou DP), can you provide us with a citation?


  9. Keith, I am inserting counter-responses following each of your responses below to my list of other justifications for sortition:

    KS> Sure, there are other benefits, but they don’t add up to much:
    TGB: I disagree. They are huge. For many advocates they far outweigh statistical representivity.

    1. TGB> preventing an entrenched powerful minority from making all decisions
    KS> random decision making (absent statistical representativity) is hardly an improvement
    TGB: mini-public decision making would not be random at all. For example, they would tend to reject decisions that enrich a powerful elite at to the detriment of most citizens (unlike electoral schemes). Particular decisions of individual mini-publics might vary somewhat, but would regress toward the democratic mean over time.

    2. TGB> avoiding corruption
    KS> ex ante only
    TGB: Rotation and the absence of career politicians with re-election campaigns to finance makes a huge difference. Anti-corruption procedures could be built into mini-public systems that would be avoided by elected bodies – even sequestration.

    3. TGB> epistemic value of having a diverse “cross-section” of people
    KS> this can be better attained by other means (crowd-sourcing, citizen initiative etc)
    TGB: Random selection is the optimal way of achieving both demographic and cognitive diversity for many reasons (prevents manipulation; plus, it impossible to know in advance what sort of diversity is most helpful, etc.)

    4. TGB> genuine deliberation in search of win-win
    KS> parliamentary unanimity generally leads to bad laws
    TGB: Win-win does not imply seeking unanimity, merely seeking more generally approved options than competitive winner-loser options. Partisan politics seeks to defeat opponents. This dynamic may develop within a mini-public that serves for an extended period, which is why I favor having relatively short terms.

    5. TGB> political equality (equal chance)
    KS> the chance of being selected is miniscule
    TGB: There are probably millions of public policy decisions made every year within a country when consider all levels of government. If single issue mini-publics are used at all levels of government, most citizens would be selected at some point. Also, even if mini-publics were relatively few, political equality is still important. I may never be falsely arrested for murder, but the ideal that I will be treated EQUALLY under the law is important even if the chances I will need to rely on it are small. In short political equality is not primarily an individual benefit… it is a democratic norm.


  10. Terry,

    1. We can only speculate on the decision outcomes of minipublics, but they would be random if they were deliberative in the sense of small groups indulging in speech acts, as the LLN would not apply. They may converge on the democratic mean in the long run, but that’s no help if a bill that is important to you is defeated for purely random reasons and in the long run we’re all dead.

    2. The absence of party discipline and the need to secure re-election would lead to widespread corruption in full-mandate minipublics.

    3. Landemore’s three case studies of the merits of cognitive diversity (New Haven neighbourhood committee, French assembly members and a Holywood movie) are unpersuasive. Scott Page’s diversity trumps ability theorem is just a mathematical tautology. Cognitive diversity can be better captured by other means.

    4. Partisan politics is designed to defeat opponents, that’s why the argumentative theory of reason has also equipped us all with the cognitive tools to distinguish between a good argument and crock of s**t.

    5. Participation in the local rat-catching committee does not a democracy make. Political equality in large states can only be achieved by representational mechanisms, otherwise it’s no more than a democratic norm (alongside motherhood and apple pie).


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