I just finished serving on a jury

We delivered our verdict this week, and I feel like I’m only just starting to decompress about the whole experience.

My jury service started last week, but it wasn’t until the third day of attending the court house that I actually got selected to serve on a jury.

Jury selection

The actual jury selection process itself was a mixture of long periods of boredom, and intense short periods where it’s important to concentrate. It felt a bit like being being in hospital, where there might be hours with nothing particular happening, and then suddenly there’s a nurse or doctor come to speak to me, and I really need to concentrate on what they’re saying.

In the case of jury selection, I was sat in a big waiting room with I’m guessing about 150 other people. And every so often a big TV would spring to life, and we would be connected to a court room by video conference. The judge would address us, and give us some stern warnings about serving on a jury while ineligible or disqualified. And then the clerk of the court would pull cards with people’s names out of a box and read them out.

The selected group of potential jurors would then be brought to the court room by a jury minder. We would then be called again by name to come to the front of the court and be sworn in.

However, I quickly learned that just because my name was called out didn’t necessarily mean that I would end up serving on the jury. There were a number of reasons why I might not serve:

  • I might know one of people connected to the case. The judge reads out a list of people associated with the trial, including the accused, any witnesses, the legal team, and the complainant if applicable – and instructs potential jurors to say if they know, or think they know, any of those people, and in which case they should not serve on that jury.
  • I might be challenged. The prosecution and each of the defendants have up to 7 challenges which can be used to exclude jurors that (for whatever reason) they don’t want on the jury. I’m not sure how they decide on who to challenge. Maybe for a particular case they might be looking for more men or women, or for older or younger people. But the only information they have about you is your name and what we look like, and they only have a couple of seconds to make a snap decision about us. The judge said that we shouldn’t take offence if we’re challenged.
  • I might have some difficulty in serving. We are told the nature of the charges against the defendant(s), and have the opportunity to talk to the judge, in confidence, if there’s a reason why we feel it might be difficult to give an objective and impartial verdict – perhaps because of some personal experience of that type of crime in the past. And similarly we are told the projected duration of the trial, and can talk to the judge if we feel we might have difficulty in serving for that length of time – perhaps because of some long-standing immovable event like a wedding or holiday.

The solicitors seem to make good use of the challenges they have. There also seemed to be a fair number of people that spoke to the judge and were excused from serving on that case. And so it would often take a few groups of people being brought to the court room before a full jury of 12 people was selected.

If someone is challenged or excused, they are brought back to the waiting room to potentially be selected for another jury.

The first case I was selected for I was challenged immediately, within about a second of my name being called out. I then had to wait another full day before I was selected again for another jury. When I went into court for that one, I half expected to be challenged again, but by the time I reached the front of the court there had been no challenge, so I was sworn in.

During the trial

I’m not going to go into any of the details of the case. All I will say it that it was pretty horrible, that it was heard in camera, and it lasted about a week.

Every day we were told the start time by the judge, but then asked to arrive at least 30 minutes before that time by our jury minder. The minders were there to help shepherd us safely and successfully around the building.

We would arrive each morning, and show a sheet of paper that confirmed which trial we were serving on. We were then escorted to a dedicated table for our jury in the jury dining room. We were then brought as a group to our jury room. The jury room was the only place where we were able to freely discuss the case between ourselves, and it was where we did all our deliberations at the end of the trial.

The jury minder would liaise with the court, and when they were ready for us we would be brought into the court room. We were always the last people to be brought in, so as soon as we sat down things would begin.

At numerous occasions during the trial the barristers would indicate to the judge that they wanted to discuss some legal matter, and the jury would be sent out of the court and back into our jury room. Sometimes these discussions would go on at length, so we had some big gaps waiting in our jury room. Thankfully there were toilets, tea/coffee making facilities, and a good supply of biscuits!

Each day the trial seemed to start at either 10.30 or 11.00am, break between 1.00pm and 2.00pm for lunch (provided for free in the jury dining room), and finish around 4.00pm. And so, generally, there were two 2-hour sessions – although, because of all the legal discussions, we were sometimes only in court for a couple of hours each day.

And so, things didn’t exactly move at a swift pace. But the case did indeed last the amount of time that it was estimated to go on.

The judge was very good at explaining to the jurors about what was going on, and the barristers were equally good about explaining the process of the trial. And it wasn’t at all like the adversarial hounding of witnesses that is portrayed in American movies. It was a lot more gentile and respectful of those taking the witness stand.

Delivering the verdict

Once all the witnesses had been heard, the prosecution and defence barristers each make a closing statement summing up the case and the evidence. The judge then directed us on points of law. We then went back to our jury room to deliberate and come up with a verdict.

There’s no particular direction given to us about how our deliberations were meant to take place. I guess each jury needs to find their own way of doing it. We ended up having some quiet time where we re-read some witness transcripts, and then a whole lot of talking it through.

I found that there were some characters in the room that wanted to do all the talking, and that it was important to find some way that everyone could get a chance to speak. And at one point we went around the table and got everyone to talk about what they felt about the case.

Then, once we had come to a verdict, it was recorded by the foreman/forewoman of the jury on an official document, and we all returned to court for the verdict to be read out.

For me, that was the single most difficult moment of the whole trial. Hearing some of the evidence during the trial had been hard, but here was the moment where our verdict would impact upon the lives of multiple people going forward. It felt like an awful responsibility, and of course one that we didn’t decide upon lightly. But still something that I think weighed heavily upon us all.

And all we could say was ‘guilty’ or ‘not guilty’. I’m sure that a lot of us would have dearly loved to have explained our verdict to the parties involved, I suppose as much for our own benefit as theirs, but that’s not available to us. We deliver the verdict, are thanked by the judge for our service, and then go back to the jury room to collect our stuff and then leave. It’s over quite quickly at the end.

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