A citizens’ jury at work in Australia

Could a citizens’ jury be the future for city’s democracy?

The government has announced that it is considering new methods of direct democracy including online polls and so-called citizens’ juries.

Its aim is to increase participatory democracy in order to allow local communities to have more say over issues such as planning, housing or the sell-off of community assets.

But Cllr Neil Baker, Canterbury City Council’s communities chairman, has urged caution about such ideas.

The Conservative warned that a citizens’ jury could become overwhelmed by “those who shout loudest”.

Six councils will take part in a pilot scheme over the next year, to be overseen by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

Cllr Neil Baker has concerns about citizens’ juries

Citizens’ juries, whose members are chosen at random, have already been trialled in South Australia where one overturned the establishment of a nuclear waste dump.

But Cllr Baker has concerns about their application in the UK. He said: “While it may be presented as encouraging local decision-making, it’s not difficult to see it as a power grab from Westminster and Whitehall.

“I can see why civil servants and cabinet ministers would like such an idea. It could abolish local government, make all decisions centrally and run the odd one past a jury of local people to give a veneer of democracy.

“Getting more local involvement is without doubt a good thing, but it’s crucial to ensure all views are heard, not just those belonging to people who shout loudest.

“Replacing local government – even if it needs a radical overhaul to be fit for purpose in the 21st century – with mandarins behind a desk in Whitehall, hiding behind a handful of locals sat in a glorified focus group for small issues every now and then wouldn’t improve local democracy and accountability.”

The Local Government Association has said it would work with ministers on the plans, adding: “Increased community involvement must go hand in hand with further devolution of funding and powers to the local level if the pilots are to be meaningful.”

One response to “Could a citizens’ jury be the future for city’s democracy?”

  1. rory kehoe says:

    Surely, we already have a type of citizens’ jury system? It’s not perfect but it works reasonably well.

    Every so often, a local election is held, a plebiscitary verdict is returned and the Presiding Officer passes sentence. That’ll be Guilty, or Not Guilty, depending whether your preferred lot won or not! Arguably, we have the Scottish Not Proven option too, in that there can be a hung result, with no overall winner.

    Do we really need yet another level of bureaucracy slowing down things? I would say not.

    Furthermore, given that only about 35% of the electorate bothers to turn out and vote in local elections, the remaining 65% voluntarily disenfranchise themselves. Are these same people going to be pleased to receive a summons to serve on a citizens’ jury? Will they even show up? It’s one thing spending a few minutes casting your vote (or not) but a whole different ball game when you’re told to give up an entire evening, for presumably no form of remuneration, apart from agreed expenses.

    I’ll be interested to see how people react to this idea. If they can be bothered of course.

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