The "citizen jury" movement, after great success in the United States, seems to be taking root and flourishing in the United Kingdom.
In fact, in the past year, there have been about 10 of them. The idea was spread via a pamphlet about the process published by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) in England and these juries have been sponsored by the institute and several government agencies.
The major emphasis, thus far, has been in the area of public health. Perhaps the most controversial has centered on the issue of the legalization of "soft drugs," i.e., marijuana. Another "pilot project" was conducted in Cambridge. It asked the jury to come up with a model of how decisions in health care service should be made.
Elizabeth Mitchell, who represented the Cambridge and Huntingdon Health Authority--the sponsor of the project-- said that from her experience with this new system it seemed that citizen juries just might be "the one instrument among many" that would help close the "democratic deficit" between citizens, communities and health officials.
Other issues handled by citizen juries in the UK have been: waste management (Hertfordshire); how to improve the town center of south Sommerset; and how to move into the computer age (Norwich).
The inventor of the process, Dr. Ned Crosby, Director of The Jefferson Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota, was recently invited to Wales to be the keynote speaker at a conference on this subject. It was organized by John Stewart, Professor of Local Government at the University of Birmingham and by Peter Stansby, Chief Executive of The Health Authority in Dyfed Powys, Wales. According to Dr. Crosby, some of these "citizens juries" were "done well and carefully and some were not."
Dr. Crosby has written a short report on this subject called: "The Citizens Jury Process in England." The reader can obtain one by contacting him at The Jefferson Center. It is free of charge. In it, Dr. Crosby notes that the UK method of citizens juries is unlike that which he pioneered or the one developed by Dr. Peter Dienel in Germany. . . which is very similar to Crosby's.
He believes some of the differences are questionable...and some are useful. For example, Crosby wonders why the UK version is limited to 4 days and 12-16 jurors. On the other hand, he seems impressed by the fact that in England, the sponsoring body (a local council or health commission) must sign a contract or agreement that requires them to respond and publish that response to the jury's recommendations.
To put an exclamation point to the potential of CJs in England, The London Times ran this headline on October 28, 1996: According to The Times, the leader of The Labour Party has promised to use this new deliberative method to "influence large areas of public policy." Like what? In Mr. Blair's view, he would convene citizens juries as a new form of public consultation to scrutinize the role of regulators in the areas of electricity, gas and water.
Apparently, Mr. Blair became aware of this process when one of the pilot projects on
health was held in his own district, Huntingdon. He was so impressed with the results,
that he has decided to implement the process on a wide scale if and when he becomes Prime
Minister of England. Derek Foster, the public services spokesman for Labour, stated that
"We believe that citizens should not be passive recipients of information from public
bodies. With the right approach, citizens can play an active role in public