Saturday, 24 October 2015

It takes courage to sit on a jury. How many of us want to decide the fate of another person's life or freedom?

I think Regina Brett has a point although having now experienced being a juror in a British crown court I have a much better understanding of both the process and effectiveness of the jury system.

The actual process of becoming a juror on a case is something I had not been aware of previously. You simply receive a letter telling you to be at the court on a specific date and that you are required to be available for at least ten days, possibly more. The only qualification to receive the letter is to be on the electoral roll and it is an invitation with few options to refuse without serious repercussions.

When you arrive at the court you are directed to the Jury lounge (practical hint: take a book) where you notice there are over forty people, which would seem odd until you realise there are three courtrooms and they each need a jury, even then there are an excess of people which is because of the selection process.

The process of jury selection is fairly simple, an usher for a court comes and calls fourteen names which forms the jury in waiting. The group is taken up to the court waiting room (this room gets terribly familiar over the forthcoming weeks) and then twelve names are called.

As each person is called they enter the jury box in order which persists for the entire trial (practical hint:remember your juror number). Before each person is sworn or affirmed there is the possibility they will be found unsuitable and will be replaced by one of the previously unselected jurors. Any unselected jurors are then sent back to the jury lounge and become available for forming another jury in waiting.

Anyone unselected at the end of the process has to remain available to return to the court to form a jury in waiting when a previous trial ends until they have exhausted their duty. There were a few of these unfortunate people who were kept in a state of limbo for several days and I am relieved this did not happen to me.

Being a juror, from a purely practical perspective, felt like working an office job for ten days. Duties consisting of attending a series of meetings with strange rules and the typically understated British approach to mentioning the result of breaking them.

I participated in two cases, both of which were (almost by definition) unpleasant happenings, these were a case of Grievous bodily harm and an offence under section 7 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003.

Both cases were challenging in their own ways the first because of the way the case was presented and the second because of its subject matter. One of the most important rules is "Do not discuss anything with anyone as it might be perjury" so going along with that I will not be discussing any details. Because I cannot be specific this post has become a little impersonal, you will have to forgive me as I found I had to remove a great deal of more content which was not appropriate.

An important thing to note is that the trials bore no resemblance to TV courtroom drama. The trials proceed in a professional manner with very little theatrics. The prosecution barrister commences outlining the case against the accused, calling witnesses and reading into evidence uncontested material. The defence then gets to present their case, again calling witnesses and placing documents into evidence.

One of the striking things about this process is that if the barristers do not call a witness or present evidence that would seem to be pertinent, the jury must not draw inference from that omission, which is especially bizarre when a central witness referred to by almost everyone involved with the case is not called.

Once the case is presented the jury is sequestered in a room and must come to a unanimous decision on each of the charges. This was, for me, the most challenging part of the whole process. Twelve people with unique views on the information presented have to attempt to discuss the evidence and not simply go with their first impressions based on their preconceptions.

The jury is allowed to ask for some evidence to be repeated and if deliberations take some time the jury may be instructed that a majority of 10 to 2 may be accepted. I imagine at some point the jury will run out of time to make a decision and something else will happen but I did not experience this.

Overall the experience was enlightening if not enjoyable, I understand the process a lot more and am happy to have discharged my duty and am equally glad the responsibility will not come around again for at least a few years.

4 comments:

  1. I followed your link for Regina Brett, expecting to find something of relevance to jury duty. But I can't see it. Does she by any chance tend towards the views expressed in https://bahumbug.wordpress.com/2007/01/24/a-crime-against-humanity/

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    Replies
    1. Sorry, the link I meant to post was https://bahumbug.wordpress.com/2013/08/02/twelve-angry-men/.

      How many jurors out there are wracked with guilt for years – even a lifetime – after being suckered into reaching a verdict that, as soon as the courtroom story fades and the real world re-enters their minds, they know or suspect to be profoundly wrong? I can see it in anyone with the kind of borderline-obsessive personality of a typical geek who gives attention to detail. Or those with a strong enough social conscience to let it affect their lives. Indeed, I wonder if you have to be a full-blown sociopath to do jury service without at least some risk of lasting damage to your psychological wellbeing?

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    2. It was her quote from the title I was mainly focusing on.

      That one has to make a decision and by necessity that requires courage to make given the ongoing repercussions to all concerned.

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