Saturday, 13 April 2013
Trial by Jury...
I finished my Jury Service yesterday; an interesting experience. I cannot tell you what it feels like to be placed in judgement of someone; it all happens very suddenly. My first case was a Grievous Bodily Harm one, rather simple really. You know the scenario: unprovoked attack, defendant flees the scene and is later arrested. I didn't personally see the need for the expense of a trial and thought the whole affair an absolute travesty of the judicial establishment, that I, not to mention the Honourable Judge and the learned Counsel, was taken out of my life, during Easter Week, and forced to listen to the garbled sounds of those humanoid beasts of the field who, by some art, can mimic actual speech (the case was of a ''gangland'' nature), then forced to watch CCTV evidence, now in slow motion, now in real time; and thought all the while that for cases such as these outlawry would be the least doom. That way we could all go home and resume our own decent lives, shutting out for a while the great unwashed. I was not foreman of this Jury but I did, more or less, chair the deliberations. The Judge was a very sweet man.
The next case was considerably more complex, being two counts of fraud. Complexity of documents, lots of dates, funds, locations, etc, to remember. I felt rather sorry for the defendant, who was well-educated and articulate, though thought that the spouse was rather shifty; clearly the spouse (not implicated in the trial) was the primary influence. I was unanimously elected foreman and the deliberations lasted in excess of five hours, which the Judge (of a more commanding nature than the former) thought indicated a good deal of care, thoroughness and conscientiousness on our part. I must say I was disappointed, and actually rather insulted, that we were no longer asked to be ''beyond reasonable doubt'' in the matter of our collective verdict; instead we were instructed in the ''burden and standard of proof,'' and given a list of criteria by the Judge on intention. I think that goes back to the time (I don't know if this is true) when a Jury was suspended by a Judge because they put this question to him: ''what is 'beyond reasonable doubt?''' A Jury of one's peers, indeed! I felt very steady and alert when I delivered the verdict to the court clerk but was informed afterwards that both Counsels were surprised by it. The Crown Prosecution counsel reminded me of a priest formerly of my acquaintance, though the learned counsel's diction was comparatively far superior.
Perhaps I might venture to give some advice to those of you who have never done Jury Service? Forget what I said about outlawry; it wouldn't work in the modern world (there are simply too many people and too much migration), the deliberations are not the forum to express one's opinions not relevant to the evidence and jurors are not expected to be miniature judges in matters of law themselves. You share the authority of the Honourable Judge; but his province (indeed his life's work) is in matters of law, yours is in matters of fact. Go in with an open mind; try to forget any prejudices you might have. You cannot make judgements in an a priori way on any matters in the case not derived from the evidence exhibited in the court. Bring a good book as you will have to do lots of waiting around; always make sure that your mobile phone is switched off as it is Contempt of Court for your phone to ring in the court or adjacent areas; and for God's Sake do not, for any reason whatever, partake of the fare of the Jurors Canteen (not that I did). You would think that the food provided by a Government building would be of a certain standard, but no. Either take a packed lunch or, if desperate, go to the nearest Marks & Spencers.