I opened up that letter and the first thing I saw was Jury Summons written in heavy writing and in bold, “woaaaah I am about to get shafted, wait a minute…” I read it further and said something along the lines of:
“Jury service is one of the most important civic duties that one can be asked to perform….When a jury reaches a verdict, they are not only making a decision that affects the individual defendant, they are also making a decision that affects the communities in which they live. Few decisions made by members of the public have such an impact upon society as a jury’s verdict”
Woah, this was happening to me! Although I mostly thought it was going to be a cool experience, there was also the thought that I was going to be tied up for a while after the nightmare stories I had heard of people being away on Jury duty for ages and ages and this could potentially mess up some of my plans of what I was going to do shortly (i.e leave my job!)
But all in all, I also saw it as a good break from normal things.
The beginning – A bit of a wait
So what happened? The first two days were a lot of waiting as many jurors arrived and waited in the jury common room. We weren’t allowed to go out at any time and had no shared facilities with the outside world (in case we bumped into the defendant who was smoking outside or something). And there must’ve been about 200 jurors in that room, madness! On the other hand my days were really great now, 10am start time and only a 15min commute. I was feeling more refreshed already. I hadn’t been called up for my first case for almost two days and I had read about every woman’s magazine in the waiting room so yes there was a fair bit of waiting about to start off with.
The courtroom drama begins!
I finally got called up to a case and then things got interesting. However, I am not going to discuss any details of the cases here even though both cases are now over and it’s ok to discuss them with friends in the pub and all that. I will discuss the process nonetheless over here. 15 jurors were first called up and 12 selected. The defendant has the right to refuse some jurors if they feel the juror is not to their liking. The case was opened and the judge explained things to the jury very respectfully. The weird thing I must admit about the whole process was that while the jury was the ultimate decider of the case at all times, we could never really ask any questions directly at any stage. We were silent at all times, even though we were the ones being convinced by both parties at all times. We could however pass a note to the judge and he could then decide to use that point or not.
The process was very formal indeed, only the jury were wearing informal clothes, the ushers, court staff (tape-recorder dude, typist, security guy holding the defendant), the barristers and judges were in full formal gear. The barristers and judge wearing one of those funny grey wigs too. The judge in our courts were always referred to as your honour. There was also space for public so anyone could go in and listen if they wanted. The public area became busy towards the end when the case was decided.
The judge is the umpire and the jury are the judge
Both judges made this clear at all times that their role was to be the “umpire” of the cases. They had to make sure everything was being carried out in the right way and they also had to make clear what the law was to us. The judges are pretty good no doubt about it, they moderate the process very well indeed and at times did indeed interfere with things they felt were not being presented in a fair and neutral way. When the barristers were fannying around trying to twist things the judge would set the record straight and re-phrase things himself. When points of law came up and the judge had to discuss something with the barristers (maybe even get them a telling off) they would usually ask the jury to retire to the jury retiring room. Ultimately it was always going to be the jury that had to be convinced and we were the deciders..
The burden of proof is on the prosecution
The case was first opened up and introduced to us. The judge made it clear that it is up to the prosecution to convince the jury that the defendant is guilty and as such the prosecution has to prove it substantially well. The defendant does not neccesarily have to prove anything or present a defence case as such. After the case was opened there was another session when the prosecution put forward their case and called their witnesses. The police officer who would make an arrest is a common witness and of course both the defendant and the prosecutor. The defence then had their say (in another session usually) and there was further questioning and cross examination.
Eventually when no more witnesses were available and both parties had presented the cases, the judge would call an end to the process and after that stage no more extra witnesses can be presented. The judge then summed up the case in another session, telling the jury what the important points and the exact counts were of the case. He also instructed the jury that we had to arrive at a decision that we ALL agreed with, a unanimous decision.
Deliberation in the retiring room
The most important process, i.e when the jury makes their decision. What the jury did in the room to reach their decision can never be revealed. And the jury are not allowed to go out of the room for a break (lunch and food is bought in, if someone goes for a cigarette break, the deliberation is paused and everyone goes out with the smoker!). It was fascinating to see that 12 people absorbed the information in 12 different ways and each had their own point of view on things. The discussions were fairly exhaustive and one person was chosen as foreman (or forewoman) to chair the discussions and also to be the one that delivers the verdict when the court asked. The jury would usually sit in the same formation, except for the last session when the verdict was delivered and the foreman had their destined spot.
What an experience
It was a great experience meeting jurors from my local community, making some friends, being asked to play guitar in the common room (I had band practice one day so I had to carry my guitar around as I always do) and having some thinking time as well away from home and work. I’d do it all again 🙂