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Monday, 29 November 2010

Here Comes the Judge

Bear with me will you? I can't say too much. A careless word - you know the drill. No it's not Wikileaks but my carrying out my civil duty as a juror.

I received my call up papers a couple of months ago and having  no legitimate excuse or impediment which would have relieved me of this onerous duty, I duly signed up. Today I turned up at our local Crown Court with my axe in hand ready to severe the neck of any miscreant found guilty of sheep stealing or parking on a double yellow line.

I know you must think that I was chosen because I'm suitably qualified to execute this honourable duty: brave, intelligent, strikingly handsome in a certain kind of light; but no. I was chosen by lady luck. Some great government wide computer plucked me out of the millions entitled to judge their fellow men. And this is my third time, so clearly I am blessed!

We were told to be at the courts by 9:15 am. First, through security, emptying everything metallic out of my pockets as I went through the gate. OK some people might think £2 in copper is rather a lot of loose change to carry on one;but I don't like getting caught short without the right amount of brass to hand. I told the security guard to stop laughing as I tried to tip the coins back into my pockets.

Then the registration. It's good that my wife asked, as I was walking out the door, whether they'd require some proof of identity; I thought they'd accept who I said I was. So it was with some confidence that I spoke my name, handed over  my call up papers and my photo card driving licence. Now I completely understand the need for top notch security - you don't want undesirables as jurors, but if my driving licence is acceptable at my local off licence I don't see why it was unacceptable today. Anyway, the "misunderstanding" was sorted out after I borrowed a lady's fur wrap to replicate the beard I no longer had.

Then we waited, and waited and waited after which  we were given all the housekeeping instructions you could image, and  forced to watch a video the artistic quality of which made John Holmes's porn movies Oscar candidates. And our token; for food and drinks; to the value of £5.17 a day. That worked out at about 1 can of cola, a bag of crisps and blueberry muffin.

And we waited, and waited and nothing happened. If the scales of justice were weighing in the balance we knew nothing of it.

There's no guarantee that you'll serve on a jury, they call in a new batch every week and as in most civil service departments over order. So you may end up spending 2 weeks twiddling your thumbs hoping against hope that they'll call you for something however insignificant. Alternatively, you may end up on a trial which lasts a couple of months. If you're really lucky your 2 weeks may encompass three or four varying crimes.

The usher, a sort of court butler, who dresses like a superannuated penguin calls fifteen names and I'm one of them! Off we go on the great adventure that is jury selection. We are ushered into the court - not to the jury box - where we are confronted by a be-wigged alien landscape. High on a perch sits the judge in wig and gown and facing him in the pit of the court the prosecution and defence briefs. And facing them the court officials. The clerk of the court rises. She calls out names in no particular order and as you are called you move to the jury box. The accused is given an opportunity to challenge the selection, but doesn't and the remaining three of the original fifteen are dismissed with court's thanks and dive back  into the thumb twiddling pool in the waiting area.

We are sworn in and it's lunch time so we traipse out to re-convene as a jury at ten to two. We find ourselves not in the court but in the jury room where momentous decisions determining some one's future will be decided. The usher asks us if we know our seating positions in the jury box. Well, I know I'm after him, and he knows he's after him but... so the usher gives us our numbers and that's how we are to enter the court. 10 or 15 minutes go by and we're called in. But first we have to line up in numbered order and that takes a while - we get better as the afternoon wears on.

The judge welcomes us, explains what he does and what we do and what the two bewigged rogues facing him are supposed to do. We look at the accused who is alternately sobbing and swearing.

Everything looks so shabby. The court room is a portacabin, well scuffed, the judge's wig looks moth eaten and the briefs looks as if they haven't shaved since Friday, their shoes are down at heel and their sleeve cuffs ragged.

And so the case begins with the prosecution outlining the charge and the facts according to the prosecution case. The first witness is called - not to the liking of the accused who starts mouthing off. So much so that they disrupt the court. We are sent out while they do something to shut them up.

After a while we are called back in but first having to line up in our numbers (just to make sure we haven't sneaked in a substitute juror?). The prosecution runs through the limited details of the case making sure the judge has time to write down the material. Then the defence starts on the prosecution witness... and it becomes clear that they've changed their story since they made a sworn statement to the police 6 months ago and we start to learn that there's much more to what appeared to be a straightforward incident. Except the defendant can't keep quiet, and when the judge points out that they're not helping their case by their out burst they agree wholeheartedly by saying "I should shut the fuck up". At which point we are removed, once again.

Twenty minutes later we return, after mastering our 1 to 12 numbering, to find the defendant missing. The judge is sorrowful, it's the last thing he wants. A fundamental of the law - the defendant being present to face their accusers...but. And we continue or the defence lawyer does...and we are dismissed again as the court decides whether the outcome of a previous hearing is admissible.

We return once again at 3:50 p.m. to learn that as the next witness's evidence is likely to take some time the court will rise until tomorrow. Tomorrow at 2:00 pm that is. Oh dear, this is going to be a long two weeks.

1 comment:

The Sagittarian said...

Haha, I feel for you! I have been on a jury twice (I know, usually you don't get called again once you've done your duty once but hey I'm lucky!!) and the first trial was quite a high profile assault case, we got the details and the photos and everything and then before we were to 'retire' to deliberate the sod changed his plea to guilty! We had sat there for days getting all het up for nowt. Good luck.