First of all, I’d like to apologise to everyone who reads this blog for having been so silent lately. I’ve been doing jury service, which has knocked the wind out of my sails much more than I expected – partly because I’ve had to keep up with bits of the day job as well (in particular, the March conference for which I organise the speaker programme), partly because it was quite a debilitating experience. However, I’d like you all to know how much I appreciate your continued interest in the blog and I promise to do better in future, starting with today!
I’m not going to write too much about the trial itself, as I don’t think that this would be fair, particularly as the judge has yet to pass sentence on the two defendants (whom we found guilty on one of the three counts, not guilty on the other two), but I should like to reflect briefly on the overall experience.
I was first called to serve on the jury of a much bigger trial, of a doctor who is accused of thirteen counts of rape that are alleged to have taken place across four decades. I’d very much like to have been one of these jurors, but the judge warned that this trial would last for at least six weeks, so I had to ask to be excused, because of the very conference I’ve already mentioned. I was a little apprehensive about it, because this judge was quite strict about which excuses he would accept – he didn’t rate lambing as a good one, for example.
I’d been warned by others who’ve done jury service that it involves a lot of waiting about. This is true, but the only really tedious bit is waiting to be assigned to a trial. I was assigned to ‘my’ trial on the morning of the second day – not bad, considering I’d already been asked to serve in the rape case – but at least one juror in waiting who arrived at the same time as I did on the Monday morning was still waiting to be called at the end of the first week!
Jurors are repeatedly told that they are the most important people taking part in a trial, because, of course, it is their verdict that finally finds the defendant guilty or not. Despite this, being a juror was curiously like the first day at primary school – trouping around with a group of other people, all of us united in not really knowing what we were supposed to do next. We soon got the hang of it and we had a particularly nice court usher looking after us – a woman called Shirley who, surprisingly, said that one of the most interesting cases she could remember involved a dispute between neighbours over bees (she indicated that, after a while, ushers become blasé about rapes and murders, because they have to listen to evidence about so many). My ears pricked up at this, as my husband keeps bees, as does one of our neighbours, but (as far as I know!) their relationship is extremely amicable and mutually supportive and neither has yet tried to sabotage the other’s hives.
Even when a jury has been sworn in and the trial has started, jurors get lots of breaks. Some of these are to allow the lawyers to discuss ‘points of law’; some are because witnesses are delayed or there is some other hitch – for example, a policewoman giving evidence at our trial had to go back to her office to fetch her notebook. The jury sits out short breaks in an ante-room just beyond the court; if the break is likely to be longer, the usher escorts the jury members back to the jury waiting room, where there is a small café, a television and a supply of books and magazines. Jurors are given a swipe-card that allows them to spend £5.71 per day on drinks and food from the café. (The sum appears to be adequate for female jurors, while most male jurors need to supplement it!)
Jury service officially lasts for two weeks, but if the trial takes longer jurors have to serve longer; if the trial is shorter, sometimes the jurors are allowed to go early. Some jurors serve on four or five short cases, each of which lasts only a day or two. Our trial went on for eight and a half days, which meant that we had fulfilled our duty as jurors by the time that it was over. More than a day of this was spent on reaching our verdict – it was a difficult case for several reasons, not least being that the victims suffered from dementia and therefore could not testify.
As a crime writer, I had been looking forward to doing jury service and although, as I’ve said, I don’t intend to write about the trial directly, I’m certain that the experience will have benefited my writing. Nevertheless, I was unprepared for how physically and emotionally exhausting it would be – hence my long silence. I’d like to apologise again for this. Thank you for waiting for me.
13 thoughts on “Called to serve…”
How interesting, Christina. It’s fascinating that lambing wasn’t accepted as a good enough reason to be excused – my daughter was called during the first week of her first job as a primary school teacher (year 1) and was excused as the children would be adversely affected.
I had a lot to do with Courts in my previous life – and they can be fascinating and irritating by turns. But, like you, I never write about it. I signed confidentiality clauses, which I won’t breach even by changing names and details. It feels part of the contract I made – and I think the same ‘rules’ apply to jury service.
But welcome back!
I must admit, I wondered if the judge’s own background was so far removed from rural life that he genuinely did not understand the implications for a farmer whose livelihood depended on successful lambing.
This must have been fascinating to your writer side, Christina. You will not be able to draw on this experience with real authority. How interesting that certain excuses are accepted and others not. I would have thought lambing was good enough reason! I can well imagine the experience was exhausting. After all, it is on your collective judgment that the conviction is set. It’s lovely to see you back here, though! I’ve missed you here.
Assume that your first ‘not’ is a typo for ‘now’?!!! Nevertheless, I don’t feel that one session much qualifies me to be an authority on the court system. It was fascinating as well as tiring, however, and I’m not sorry to be back with ‘normality’! You’re very kind, Valerie; I always appreciate your support for my blog. 🙂
Oops, yes :-))) A typo indeed! I remember my father doing jury service when I was a child. We were on our annual holiday when he had to go back. We all thought it was very inconvenient, but then so did he. It seems this is one duty it’s very difficult to escape, however pressing other commitments seem to be.
H Christina, welcome back. I ran my own shop when I was working, so I did not have to serve on a Jury. I explained I could not afford to pay staff to cover my absence, and I couldn’t afford to close the shop to do it. I breathed a sigh of relief, when the letter came back saying I was excused. I was sad to have missed the experience. My husband has done it twice, so in a we way, we have both done our Civic Duty.
You can never guess how anything will affect you,one of the trial my husband saw, involved G.B.H., the culprit lived not far from us in Leeds. He worried for months that we might see the men who had been involved in the Trial.
I am sure you be able to use the experience in some way in your writing.
Hello, Marjorie! Thank you for your welcome and your comment. My husband served on a particularly unpleasant case held at Leeds and, at the end of the trial, the jury was told they would never be called again. He was fascinated by the experience and rather regrets that!
The wheels of justice! I’d be lost without a little of the Rumpole to draw upon.
Glad you are back. Facts – yes, facts. Such elusive little bits, aren’t they?
We think we know them so well and then a touch of the courts and we realize they are much harder to come by than we thought.
“Can you account for your whereabouts?”
In your inimitable way, Jack, you hit the mark precisely. There is something fascinating about pinning down facts and sifting away supposition and emotion. I was much stimulated by our jury’s pursuit of those ‘elusive little bits’! Thanks, as always!
Fascinating blog, Christina. I too was puzzled by what is accepted as an excuse for not serving. My son is a criminal barrister, so not sure if that would be accepted. We may pop up in the same court at the same time. That would be interesting . . .
Thanks, Lynn. Perhaps it’s as well to have ready prepared a persuasive little argument to sway the doubting legal mind! 😉
I, too, recall how draining this experience can be, though the process sounds slightly different from the Scottish High Court, I don’t think there was any minimum serving time. Most interesting post.
Thanks, Ailish. As you will have gathered, the experience was very stimulating for me, but rather disturbed my normal activities, including this blog. I don’t regret it one bit, however. Thank you for taking the trouble both to visit and to comment. I look forward to welcoming you here again. 🙂