34p a day to decide someone’s fate
Shortly after an important job interview, I had a call from my caring peanut of a man pet to ask how it went. I soon became agitated by his lack of probing questions, until he stopped me short to reveal his true reason for calling. Whilst addressing a neglected pile of my post he’d come across a jury summons letter . . . and I should have been in court that morning.
Having already deferred this duty once, I have visions of imminent incarceration and keys sinking out of sight in grim Thames water. Thankfully, the Jury Manager, Babs*, is more forgiving and asks me to come in early the following day.
I make a point of arriving half an hour earlier than early to illustrate my remorse, shame and undying commitment. Within the Jury Assembly Room, designed to accommodate 100+ jurors, an introductory DVD is blasted at my lonely ears. It’s pretty dated. I can’t tell whether the court usher featured in it has joined in with her own court wig, or just has awful hair.
Reimbursement forms follow. No loss of earnings for me (I start a new job the Monday after jury service concludes: dang!) BUT I do get 9.3p per mile cycled to reach the courts. This equates to 34p a day. I am hardly winning here.
Things look up as I spy a garish canteen. It appears odds on they would serve scampi and flaccid chips. To clarify, for me, this is a good thing. It later transpires it no longer functions due to government cuts, setting me up for two weeks of decidedly average Tesco Meal Deals.
I learn that jury service is as much about waiting for a case, as sitting on a case. There is an ominous stack of jigsaw puzzles in the corner and in week two, my peers and I may have been guilty of bringing in unwanted clothes for an impromptu jumble sale . . .
When you are called for a case, 16 jurors enter the room from which 12 are randomly selected. I meet one poor character who had been called, but not selected, 4 times.
Once you find yourself on a jury, you can only discuss the case with other jurors, and only once the evidence has concluded and you are deliberating to reach a verdict. No details are to be shared with friend, family or partners. It’s excruciating. However, I am frivolously thrilled by the similarities with how court is depicted in the media. The prosecution present their evidence which can then be cross-examined by the defence barrister. Repeat vice versa. Closing speeches from both and finally the judge summarises the case.
Curiously, the defence barristers often look rather scruffy. Robes slouch down shoulders and lopsided wigs are as dishevelled as a granddad’s eyebrows.
Anyhow, case concluded, the jury trot off to bat evidence, opinions and ambiguities around until a guilty or not guilty verdict is reached.
Being part of a deliberating jury is akin to attending a hugely successful dinner party. Everyone speaks with passion and gesticulates wildly whilst working the table for eye contact. At times, it does get heated and I ponder on whether a jury has ever deliberated on a case which arose from unchecked conflict during a jury deliberation . . .
In theory, you could swiftly reach a unanimous verdict but communicate back to the judge that discussions remain ongoing. Then, each day, everyone brings in a bottle of wine and a packet of jammy dodgers and you’ve secured yourself a peculiar but enjoyable few days out the office. Beats jigsaw puzzles.
Ultimately, I walk away from the experience enlightened, though slightly dubious about the effectiveness of trial by jury. Regardless of the outcome, the process does draw heavily on the ability to communicate clearly, to listen, to persuade and to cooperate. A mocked-up trial would make a fantastically refreshing corporate training event. Someone could make millions. If only I wasn’t starting that job on Monday . . .
*names have been changed