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The Modern Scottish Jury in Criminal Trials


3. Age limit for jury duty

3.1 In Scotland, individuals over the age of 65 are not eligible for jury duty. The age limit for jurors was last reviewed in 1975 by the Thomson Committee whose report recommended an extension of the (then) age limit from 60 to 65 years of age. The age limit has not since been reconsidered. In recent years, many have asked why the age limit for jury duty remains capped at 65.

3.2 Across every strand of public policy, there is a growing recognition of the contribution that the over 65 age group can make to society. All our Futures: Planning for a Scotland with an Ageing Population (2007) stimulated debate on this issue. For the individuals concerned, opportunities to remain engaged in community and public affairs make for a more varied, healthier and rewarding life. The Scottish Children's Reporter Administration has recently removed its upper age limit for children's panel members and the General Teaching Council of Scotland has removed the mandatory leaving age of 70. Judges (including lay justices) serve until age 70. Against this background, the question naturally arises why those aged 65 to 70 are not entitled to serve on juries.

3.3 Recent academic research (Goteborg Studies in Sweden, Swedish Twin Study and Schaie's Seattle Longitudinal Study) reveal that today's 70 year olds are comparable to 65 year olds who lived 30 years ago. Research also tells us that in developed countries most people maintain their level of everyday intelligence or mental achievement until around age 70. Public attitudes and expectations have moved on: the reservations expressed in the Thomson Committee about the ability of senior citizens to cope with 'mentally strenuous court proceedings' do not find much, if any, support today.

3.4 The age limit for jurors in England, Wales and Northern Ireland is 70. Raising the age limit for Scottish jurors to 70 would achieve a common age limit for jurors throughout the UK. In addition, the change would ensure that, as the demographic profile of Scotland changes, juries are drawn from a wider age range. It would also bring operational benefits to the jury system, enlarging the pool of potential jurors by around 200,000. Jurors in the 65-70 age range who draw state or occupational pensions would not experience any change in their financial position as a result of jury service: their income would be unaffected. To the extent that jurors over 65 displace younger jurors in employment or self-employed, the proposed reform will produce some modest savings estimated at around £250,000 a year in the budget for juror allowances - savings which can be usefully recycled within the jury system for the benefit of the whole juror pool.

3.5 It would be open to those in the 65 to 70 age range - as to individuals of any age - to apply for excusal from jury duty on compassionate grounds. This would be considered sympathetically and with common sense by the Court.

3.6 The Government recognises that, for some, this proposal may be seen as bringing more burdens than benefits. It is however clear that the present age limit fails to recognise the valuable contribution that many over 65s can make to jury deliberations and the Government believes it would be wrong to continue to exclude them. For this reason it makes a firm proposal to raise the age limit for jury service from 65 to up to 70 and would intend to effect this change through legislation at an early suitable opportunity. It would welcome views.

Do you agree that persons aged 65-70 should no longer be debarred from jury service on grounds of age?