Letter to the Editor: Citizen Jury an excellent idea

DEAR News Of The Area,

MICHAEL Faulkner’s suggestion of using a Citizens Jury with regard to the Jetty foreshore is an excellent one.

Some readers may not know what a Citizens Jury is, or how it works.

Most of us, when asked, would claim that Athens is the birthplace of our democracy.

Yes, and no.

The Athenians of 2500 years ago adopted a democratic system, but with one major difference from how we practice democracy today.

Today, we are inclined to immediately think of the electoral system when speaking of democracy.

However, the Athenians did not use a voting process for selecting their decision makers.

They used a system known as sortition – which in its simplest form is selection by lot.

As with courtroom juries, the potential jurors in a Citizens Jury are chosen by random selection.

This process, of random selection, has much going for it, and very little downside.

One significant benefit is that the experience, knowledge, and opinions of those selected is highly diverse, and likely to be far more representative of the general population than is normally the case.

Sortition enables the common wisdom of people to be introduced into decision-making, in contrast to the often more narrow skill-set of “experts”.

Citizens Juries have been introduced in many countries around the world, especially since the 1980s.

Research into the effectiveness and usefulness of the sortition process regularly finds that the level of trust in the process, and support for the outcomes, are high.

The Danish philologist, Mogens Hansen, has written extensively on Athenian democracy and the use of sortition.

He notes that, contrary to what “politicians” may tell us, ordinary citizens are prepared to enter a Citizens Jury with an open mind, and are able to set aside their self-interest in the interests of all.

Crucially, he also notes that ordinary citizens are interested in making decisions instead of delegating those decisions to “professionals”.

Citizens Juries still have access to expertise and presentations by professionals in the fields under consideration.

Hansen, however, claims that the common-sense of ordinary citizens is sufficient to make good and rational decisions having taken into consideration the expert advice.

A Citizens Jury is certainly worth a try, although I suspect that the “powers that be” have now entrenched themselves too deeply.

Kind regards,
Bruce MEDER,
Coffs Harbour.

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