Doing justice justice.

I recently completed 2 weeks’ jury service. It’s fascinating stuff. A colleague was on a jury for a murder trial not so long ago and he gave me some good pointers on what to expect.

I was selected for the jury on a very grim trial – about as grim as it gets – but fortunately the defendant entered a guilty plea just as the trial was going to start. Phew – I hadn’t brought any tissues.

The next trial I was on was a very petty incident that had spiralled out of control. For all the ‘he said, she said’ trivial nature of the case it was incredibly interesting sitting there trying to establish the facts and tell the lies from the truth.  Undoubtedly plenty of people on the stand were lying through their teeth – very convincingly at times. I’m just not used to being lied to.

I would have been Alex James in this instance.

Anyway, if you’re picked for jury service it can come at an awkward time and your employer may not welcome it with open arms (though mine was very good about it) but you should definitely do it. If you do, here’s what to expect:

1. Wait. Then wait some more. Take a book, there’s a lot of waiting around. If you haven’t yet been picked for a jury, you could spend the best part of a week waiting for a case. Take a book. Earphones can be bad as you might miss your name being called out.

2. Ask questions. You can’t actually put questions to the defendant or witnesses directly but you can write ’em down, hand them to the court usher and they’ll pass it on to the judge. They’ll read the note and decide whether or not to put them to the court. Just don’t leave it too late. Once both sides have done their speeches and the judge has summed up, no new evidence is allowed, so don’t leave it until you all go away to start deliberating. You’ll have missed the boat.

I had about 10 questions which I ran past the rest of the jury. They all said, “Ask away” and after that it opened the floodgates so that most of the jury did the same. Hell, we can all play Columbo once can’t we?

3. Be open and friendly with the other jurors. The chances are nobody else on your jury has ever done this before. You’re all noobs. The judge must get sick of having to explain what’s happening to all these new joiners ALL the time.

4. When deliberating, try playing devil’s advocate from both sides – polar opposite sides. What if everything the defence said was true? What if everything the prosecution said was true? Which is easier to defend or believe? It really helped our jury. We needed a unanimous verdict. We had 10 on one side, one on the other and one undecided. When we tried to see things from the opposite point of view we quickly reached a consensus.

5. Drink it all in. Chances are you won’t get a second opportunity. It’s fascinating. People’s lives hang (though not literally any more) on your decisions. That’s real power!

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