Councillor in court

Potential jurors are selected randomly from the electoral register so I had always found it strange that for the whole of my life neither my parents nor I were ever called for jury service. It was convenient being missed out but on the other hand I had always wondered if it might be quite interesting.

Then, a couple of months ago my Jury Summons arrived in the post with a date on which I had to turn up at Crown Court for two weeks service. In a way this wasn’t perfect as my councillor duties and other activities were already taking up a lot of my time. It is possible to postpone your service but I didn’t take this route as I couldn’t see when losing two weeks was ever likely to be convenient. So, forms filled and date confirmed I just cleared my diary apart from a few evening Council meetings and hoped I wouldn’t be required outside of office hours.

Sitting in the jurors area waiting to be called can be tedious but having access to my emails and electronic files meant I could get some work done – a benefit of ‘Cloud Computing’. When your name is called you are taken down to the court as part of a panel of 16 from which 12 are randomly chosen. Each selected juror then stands up to read their oath and those not chosen are required to wait in case the defendant objects to anyone and wants a replacement. Some people can get to the end of their service without sitting on a case but I was lucky to be on the panel for two cases and was one of the 12 chosen in each with no replacements being requested. The first case lasted just over a week and the second took three days so I was occupied for most of my two weeks.

Each of the cases followed a similar pattern which started with the prosecution presenting their side of the story. This was followed by the defence case, summing up from both sides then finally the judge’s summing up of everything we had heard. After this it was down to us to weigh up the evidence and make a decision on the innocence or guilt of the defendant, bearing in mind it is for the prosecution to prove guilt not the defence to prove innocence. To do this we were taken to a deliberation room where we handed over our phones and other means of communicating with the outside world and were locked away until we all agreed a decision.

One of the jobs the jury is given by the judge is to elect a foreman who will stand up in court and return the jury’s verdict. It is not a popular job and in both cases I ended up taking on the role. It is both strange and emotional standing with everyone in the court watching you while you return a verdict that could change the course of someone’s life. It is however comforting that all of the jury came to the same conclusion so you are not alone in making what is likely to be a sound decision.

So, having now performed jury service would I want to do it again? It can be boring while waiting around and trials can have their slow sections but it is an important job which has to be done. Overall I found it very interesting and a useful learning experience so the answer is a definite yes.