May 20, 2013
Jury still out on jury
By Michael Soltys
Buenos Aires Herald Senior Editor
Any analysis of the judicial reforms proposed by President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner in her state-of-the-nation speech last Friday is hazardous while the parliamentary bills with their specific details are awaited but perhaps it is worth looking at something not included in the announcements — namely, trial by jury, especially since this was at the forefront of CFK’s proposals when she first raised the concept of “democratized justice” in the wake of the mass indignation over the Marita Verón white slavery trial acquittals a dozen weeks ago. Given that jury duty is all about the popular protagonism which is claimed to lie at the heart of these reforms (and the experience would certainly help the ordinary citizen to cast a more informed vote for the Council of Magistrates, whose elective nature now seems to be CFK’s leading proposal in this latest package), this omission is curious.
And as it happens, trial by jury makes a far more positive contribution to civic awareness than to legal efficiency. This system barely exists outside North America and its original British home (and resolving only one or two percent of all legal cases even there with its use almost entirely restricted to criminal justice) with all kinds of problems arising from hung juries, the pressures of organized crime, etc. Critics often point out that true democracy means more than voting every few years — jury duty makes society at large a protagonist in justice, educating the citizenry as to legal institutions.
All of which raises in turn a different question — not only why CFK omitted the jury system in her battery of measures last Friday but why there is no popular demand if government initiative is lacking? The answer to this question perhaps tells us a lot about how CFK’s incessant drive to expand state powers seems to be pushing at an open door most of the time. Pundits invariably deplore the lack of an effective opposition but the real problem might well be a citizenry which shuns defending its rights because they come accompanied by sometimes onerous civic responsibilities (like jury duty). This civic immaturity permeates into every area of public life — thus a mentality of living for the day leads to an economy entirely geared to consumer-led growth at the price of inflation and at the expense of long-term investment, whether public (infrastructure) or private (housing). There is such a thing as people having the governments they deserve.