Peter Rhodes on a breastfeeding juror, a proud newsreader and raising a glass to freedom

What a difference a week makes. Seven days ago, we Brits were living in mortal fear that catching Covid-19 would destroy our immune systems and wreck our lungs.

Jeremy Paxman thinks anyone can read the news
Jeremy Paxman thinks anyone can read the news

This week, as the pubs re-open, we've given up worrying about our lungs and resumed our national pastime of wrecking our livers and kidneys.

Cirrhosis? Yup, we'll drink to that.

Jeremy Paxman recently claimed that "any fool" could read the TV news. Reeta Chakrabarti, a TV newsreader, disagrees.

She points out that, as a journalist, she writes some of the reports she reads: "I pride myself on being able to write with simplicity and clarity."

The strange part is that in repeated surveys on public attitudes to the professions, many folk say that they trust newsreaders but far fewer trust journalists. They're the same thing.

Hull University is one of several unis adopting what they call “inclusive assessments” in the pursuit of fairness.

Academics apparently regard a good standard of written English as being “homogenous north European, white, male, elite.”

Lower the standards for spelling and grammar, goes the theory, and disadvantaged pupils will compete on level terms with the rest.

It worries me a little that a student who can't tell the spelling of “analgesic” from “arsenic” might emerge with a first-class degree in medicine, but that's probably me being a sad old elitist again.

A really nasty elitist might even take the outrageous view that our children spend 13 years in primary and secondary education and if they're not learning to read and write properly, what exactly are they doing?

“There needs to be some leeway and compassion,” complains 36-year-old Zoe Stacey who asked to be excused jury service on the grounds that she is a breastfeeding mother.

Her request was rejected by court officials and she endured much stress and many sleepless nights worrying about it. She will not be the only one.

When your name pops up on the court computer as a potential juror, there's not a lot of leeway or compassion.

From the moment the jury summons arrives with its threat of £1,000 fines for non-attendance, you are made to feel you have done something wrong.

During the pandemic, jurors are advised not to use public transport, but told that their car-park charges might not be paid.

The daily allowances are dismal and the loss of earnings, especially for the self-employed, can be serious.

As I have suggested before, during the Covid-19 outbreak, jury trials should have been replaced with judge-only hearings to cut a backlog of 50,000 cases.

In the longer term, instead of rounding up resentful plumbers or scared, breastfeeding mums, why not have a panel of semi-professional volunteer jurors who not only enjoy the task but have the spare time to do it properly?

After all, there's nothing new in the idea of our criminal-justice system bending over backwards to help people.

It's been doing it for criminals for years.

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