I was chatting to the receptionist this morning and a chance remark by her brought together some thoughts I had been mulling over triggered by two disparate articles that I had encountered over the weekend. The first article was a report on the radio about hung juries increasing, a written report is available online here. It transpires that there were 116 hung juries in 2008 compared with 52 in 2006. The increase, large though it is, means that in 2008 just 0.7% of all cases that came to court ended in a hung jury. What is more telling is one of the reasons suggested for the change which I will come to shortly.
The other article was in this morning’s Daily Telegraph. It refers to a part of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act that was passed in May 2008 and which comes into force sometime this year (if anyone could enlighten me on when, I would be interested in knowing). The part in question makes it an offence to incite hatred base on sexual orientation. I am not going to debate the pros and cons of this legislation (Rod Liddle does it better than I could here) but I do think that it is one of those abysmal pieces of legislation that tell us how to think.
The comment that the receptionist made was to follow up the use of the phrase ‘half-caste’ with the apology of ‘Oh, we are not supposed to use that phrase now are we? I don’t know what we are supposed to say instead.’ You will notice that she twice referred to ‘what we are supposed to say’. I suspect that this sort of comment is not new to you and I admit to having used it myself but it doesn’t say a lot about freedom of speech does it?
One of the reasons given for the increase in hung juries was; ‘I do think that we live in an era when people are much more nervous about being judgmental.’ Doesn’t that tie in with a society that is told how to think? Isn’t this an example of how, when faced with a situation that requires a decision, that we, as a population, are finding it increasingly difficult to come up with an answer? Are we not being taken down a road that increasingly despises individual differences?