“ Tell us about your experience of jury service. „
With the news that the European Court of 'Justice' has decided to make sure British prisoners are given the right to vote, curtsey of a pot smoking axe murderer, (only in Europe could that happen) it's yet another blow for the victim's rights. This ruling will open the door for prisoners to have all manner of human rights laws enforced to make their stay in jail shorter and more comfy. I know they can watch Sky TV and have access to games consuls in their personal cells in some private prisons but that will be waiter service and days out to Alton Towers next year the way its going. Coupled with the shift to move more and more trials away from crown court and into the magistrate's court we will see even less people jailed for serious crimes. Its pretty obvious people are now jailed on spread sheets rather than the severity of the crime. 16,000 were released early last year of which two thirds re-offended. But with all this in mind it's the same Middle-England that shouts the loudest about the criminals getting away with it and the courts not being tough enough that refuse to turn up for jury service. So much for the Big Society!
If you want to see who is on trial today in your local court press this.
I did my jury service in 2005 and I presume I was picked because I was unemployed at that point and so my name coming up on the old dot-matrix printer, pensioners and the jobless the most likely to turn up and do their service because the posh people abscond with their excuses. My jury group was very blue-collar, prosecuting their piers. You can appeal the decision and delay things if you're anxious about service, what is a nerve racking experience, but its best to do it and get it out of the way in my experience after enjoying my two weeks. Once you have done it you will want to do it again. Power is addictive. All those people you rant at in the pages of the Daily Mail will be there for you to bang up, although today with 95,000 people in jail the judge and lawyers will try to sway you at the last to bang them up as the jails are already full of druggies.
Once you have your formal brown envelope with the two week period you will be asked to attend the court house. sort it out with your boss and iron your best stuff. There are compensation and travel expenses schemes to cover your service and the trials shouldn't be too long (three days at most) and you will be at home half of the two weeks when dismissed. There is a bit of waiting around but they have TV and coffee in the assembly area. I did three trials in my two weeks and one lasted just three hours. When you are called and lined up in that familiar box in the court room the lawyer's perm 12 from 16 and the others marched out again.
My first trial was drugs, your bog standard white chav teenager straight out of central casting up for selling crack up on Northampton's worst sink estate. The lad was using his girlfriends flat to sell drugs and four other lads with him had already pleaded guilty to possessions and supply, this one holding out for some reason. All the drug paraphernalia was in front of the lads when the cops busted in and our defendant claimed he was just watching on in his own flat and they were just mates doing something nothing to do with him. The trail lasted four days, the lad was bang to rights and we deliberated for three hours. But there is always doubt and for some reason the prosecution didn't present any fingerprint evidence of the guys hands on the scales and bags of drugs and so we had to let him off, the judge dropping his rather cliché half moon reading spectacles and suggesting with narrowing eyes we should think again if he is guilty. The young lads Reeboks shot out of court sharpish and I did ponder at that point that he had grassed on the other lads for a lighter sentence. There were certainly some interesting characters on the viewing bench jeering. They didn't eye up the jury either and so I presume they wanted him to go down.
Once you see how meticulous and calculated the legal process is you can see how the courts and judges and not the jury dictate who goes down and who walks. We know the CPS (Crown Prosecution Service) are under pressure not to put people forward for trail as the jails and holding cells are full and so the jury system continuously undermined. And as many people don't want to be bothered with jury service (they are scared not apathetic) then eventually it will be scaled back for just the most serious crimes. The fact is over two thirds of convicted criminals return to crime and so the current system doesn't work because they are let out to re-offend, an intolerable paradox. Drugs are cheaper in jail and they get three square meals and telly so why worry about getting caught? The jury system helps lawyers make a lot of money and should be changed.
The Prison population
In my home town of Northampton 20% of the prisoners in the two local jails are foreign nationals. Nationally it's around 22%. 40% of Brixton jail inmates weren't born here. Most prisoners are re-offending junkies in their twenties. There are 10,000 military personal in jail and 12,000 Muslims. There were no British Caribbean graduates in last year's 3500 intake for Oxbridge from that 2% of the population but they account for one-in-eight of the 90,00 prison population. 64% of those were serving more than 4 years compared to 51% of white British. White males still make up 75% of the inmates. Vietnamese nationals are now the most likely foreigners behind Jamaicans to be jailed, Nigerians holding third spot. The Poles tend to be shipped home to face trail. Each in-mate cost £38,000 per year in jail. Violence against the person is the number one offence to earn jail.
My second trail was GBH, two homeless guys jumping a drunkard coming out of a town centre pub and stealing his cell phone. There was no CCTV evidence available in court of the beating, even though Northampton has some the most extensive CCTV coverage in Europe, the act occurring right under the cameras. The police recovered the said phone under the offender's pillow in his homeless hostel he was staying in as they knew him and had dealt with him before. Again it was an open and shut case but the defendant claimed the other guy who helped him mug the chap placed the phone under his pillow to incriminate him and so alibis for each. It was ambiguous so 'not guilty' again. The poor chap who was beat up later discovered that these guys had previous, one of them on his 30th court appearance! He was jailed that day for ten other offences taken into consideration.
My third trail was rape; a Nigerian asylum seeker claiming she was raped by another Nigerian guy in an office they were working as in a night cleaning job. She was scared to come forward in fear of deportation and he knew that. But the trial collapsed as she refused to continue giving evidence to her court translator. I know not why as most Nigerians speak fluent English.
So three trials and no one banged up but still a worth while experience. Its one of those right-of-passages that you need to experience in life and up there for nerves with your first bonk and your driving test. Those who make up excuses not to do it and then rant off in the pub that there is too much crime and not enough of them being locked up need to look at themselves. The judiciary certainly need you guys to do jury duty and criticism that the current demographic of twelve men and women true are not of a high enough calibre to past judgement on their fellow man maybe valid and they need people as educated as the lawyers. The system at the moment can be dragged out and the lawyers are making billions from legal aid with petty trials. If that axe murder can get his fellow lags the vote by using your money then you can see the fraud right there. Its time for you guys to step up and bang the scum away.
I think it is safe to say that for the majority of us having a scary, big brown official looking envelope dropping through our letter box containing Jury Summons is not going to be the highlight of our day. When this happened to me rather than thinking "finally, I can give something back to my country by performing my civic duty", I immediately tried to find a way out of it. Checking through the "Guide to Jury Summons" I realised the futility of this task as I was neither insane, a criminal nor criminally insane. Ignoring it was not an option either with an intimidating threat of £1,000 for failure to reply.
Most people probably have no idea what to expect when it comes to jury service (I certainly didn't) so I hope that by sharing some of my experiences I can shed some light on the whole process and any issues that may worry some people so it doesn't seem so scary anymore. There are quite a lot of cogs in the machine so I hope I won't bore people too much - this has sort of turned into a user guide of its own so feel free to only read bits that interest you!
The first priority when you receive your jury summons is to make sure you are actually eligible for jury summons - it is best to be sure as you could be subjected to...you've guessed it...a fine or even imprisonment if you attempt to serve when you are not eligible. I always feel that a good threat makes things so much more appealing. So, as long as you fit the following criteria you can serve:
1. You must be over 18 and under 70 on the day you are due to serve
2. You are registered to vote (i.e. you must be a British, Irish, EU or qualifying Commonwealth citizen)
3. You have lived in the UK for any period of at least 5 years since you were 13 years old
4. You are not on bail / in criminal proceedings
5. You have not been imprisoned for a period of 5 years or more
6. You have not been imprisoned, or received a suspended sentence / community order for any period within the last 10 years
7. You have never been institutionalised or are under the regular treatment of a medical practitioner for mental health issues
8. You are not in guardianship under the Mental Health Act 1983
9. You have the mental capacity as stipulated in the Mental Capacity Act 2005 to make sound juror decisions
I desperately tried to find something here to excuse myself, but apart from a suspicion of slightly dubious mental health which has never been diagnosed I found myself completely eligible.
But could I get a deferral or excusal? I think with a deferral, unless you have a really good excuse like a booked holiday or serious work commitments then you might as well get it over and done with! With an excusal you need to take ironclad proof to the Jury Central Summoning Bureau of a valid and mind-blowing reason why you should never have to serve and weighing this up I felt it would probably take at least 2 weeks to work something out so I might as well just suck it up and do my duty.
So, if you are one of the unlucky people that are eligible for jury service then upon the sending of your affirmative response you will receive a "Confirmation of Jury Service" letter a few days later giving you the final time, date (approx 2 months in the future) and location for where your jury service will occur and then you are trapped with no hope of escape. You will receive information specific to your local court, in my case the Reading Crown Court, such as a map of how to get there, available refreshments, disability information, and the court hours.
You will also get "Your Guide to Jury Service" which is actually surprisingly helpful and will definitely answer the majority of questions you are likely to have about what is expected from you throughout the whole process. But it does take a very black and white approach and lacks personal experience which is where this review hopefully comes in!
If your boss is anything like mine then it may be a bit of an ordeal to pass on the news. My boss did not take it well, ranting and raving about how the government forced businesses to pay twice, once in taxes and once to fund this part of the legal system through the loss of their employees and how this all suddenly became my fault for accepting and I was clearly just looking for a holiday yada yada. To be fair, he was willing to pay my wage as normal for however long I had to serve which was very decent, but firms are allowed to refrain from doing this in which case the court must stump up a compensatory wage. These are they three types of compensation the court will offer:
If you are self-employed then you need to produce proof from an accountancy source of your daily earnings, and if you are employed and your employer does not want to subsidise you they need to fill out an expenses form of their own. Financial loss also covers the loss of benefits or the need for childcare cover (which most courts will not offer on site) but only up to a maximum a day all of which you need definitive proof (as of 2010):
4 hours (half a day) in the first 10 days of service - £32.47 per day
4 hours (half a day) on the 11th - 200th days of service - £64.95 per day
4 hours (half a day) on the 201st day of service onwards - £114.03 per day
Over 4 hours (full day) in the first 10 days of service - £64.95 per day
Over 4 hours (full day) on the 11th - 200th days of service - £129.91 per day
Over 4 hours (full day) on the 201st day of service onwards - £228.06 per day
The court tries to encourage you to use public transport and will fully reimburse you for all of these, but my court would not pay for parking around Reading as they are just too expensive. Daily tickets are advisable if you do not know your schedule as you may not be required in every day and the court would not want to pay for extra days. You also need to make sure in advance that taxis are okay to use e.g. if you live in the sticks and you need to walk miles to get to a bus.
* All buses and trains and permitted taxis will have their 2nd class fares paid for.
* Bicycles can get 9.6p per mile (on a round trip).
* Motorcycles will get 31.4p per mile (on a round trip)
* Cars will get 31.4p (on a round trip) and an extra 4.2p for a passenger and 3.2p per mile for every subsequent passenger.
If your court provides catering you will be given a smart card which allows you a staggering £5.71 per day (which sadly does not roll over to the next day) to buy food and drink which from my experience really doesn't stretch a long way. Even though the firm that catered for my court was supposedly subsided to reduce prices they were still expensive, but I cannot comment on other courts! If somehow you go over 10 hours in a day which is a scary prospect you would get £12.17 on that day but pray that never happens. If your court does not have a catering facility then you can just get the money paid at the end.
So overall you may lose out a bit financially, but the courts clearly make an effort to make it as painless and as minimal as possible. If you are worried about any of this you can phone up the Jury Central Summoning Bureau as long as it is more than a week before you are due to start.
In your guide it states that attire should be smart casual and unfortunately I have the wardrobe of Rab C. Nesbitt so I felt that going on a shopping spree to gain some smartish clothes beyond jeans and a skull t-shirt was in order. Spending £90 to spruce myself up I arrived to find that jeans were in fact fine as were casual clothes in general (as long as they did not express some political or insulting message). So that was £90 not well spent. Still, just in case, best to dress fairly smartly on your first day as this may only apply to Reading Crown Court.
Your First Day
So, your first day arrives and despite having undoubtedly read all the blurb you may still be unsure as to what to expect. Well, the first thing I can say is expect boredom! On your first day when you have to arrive at the outrageous time of 9am and, having given successful proof that you are who you say you are, you will have to sit through a video and a talk detailing the whole process. Somehow it seems more glamorous on the video than it really is...
If you have any special requirements then it is best to register these with the jury desk on your first morning. Things such as medical issues like diabetes, walking problems or issues with reading or hearing should be registered, as well as how you want to take oath in the actual court i.e. if you wish to affirm or use a different holy book other than the Bible. There's so many niggly things that people worry about that your best bet is to get it all out of the way that first morning.
If there is a long trial starting that day/week which is longer than 2 weeks then you will get the opportunity to give a reason why you cannot spare the time which will be give to the judge to decide if it is a worthy reason or not so you'd better make it a good one. My reason was "I am the head of my department for a small firm (7 employees) and cannot afford the time" which seemed to be good enough. The fact that I am the only person in my department need not be mentioned...
It is at this point that jury service may become very different for each individual person. Everyone just needs to sit around waiting for roll calls which may or may not include their name so it is vitally important that you take some form of entertainment with you such as a book. You are allowed your laptop and mobile phones in this waiting room but they have to be stored away if your name gets called. Lockers are supplied but we had real issues at Reading Crown Court with the locker keys not getting returned so laptops and phones may have to be left with the staff and are left at your own risk so you may want to avoid that danger.
It may be that your name does not get called out on any of the roll calls and you will more than likely get released for the day at around lunchtime after hours of pointless waiting whereby you need to phone back that afternoon to receive further instructions about which day and time you will be required back on. I know of some people that never got called on a single case as it is all "random" supposedly.
However, if the moment arrives and you hear your name called you have to converge in reception with the rest of your unlucky group before being escorted up to your chosen court. You may go in directly or you may be forced to wait around even longer to allow for unseen business to end in that court. Once you are in there will normally be 15 or so potential jurors (for long trials this could be up to 22) and then 12 will be picked randomly and made to sit in the jury seats. Those rejected will have to hang around in case the defendant has any objections about any of the jurors. The jurors are then sworn in, and the rejected jurors can then go back to the waiting room downstairs with complete freedom the lucky....
It seems that the act of being sworn in does cause some panic in a few people but there's nothing to worry about. There will be only a Bible in front of you and a card to read - if you have any difficulties reading the court usher will read it out for you and you just need to repeat so there should be no problems. The court usher will also have other holy books and affirmation cards ready for you so when it comes to your turn no need to panic. This is the only time you need to speak in court and from here on out you just need to sit back and relax and try to don an exterior of complete concentration.
From my experience a trial seems to follow a specific format - the prosecution explains their case, brings forth evidence and witnesses which the defence has an opportunity to cross-examine and then they close their case. The defence then repeats the process with their case before both sides give their closing speeches and the judge sums up and gives the jury their instructions. It's not really like it seems on the television with constant cries of "Objection! Sustained!" - it is all in all a very polite affair.
If the trial goes over more than one day the judge is very strict in reminding you not to discuss any details with friends and family when you get home upon threat of...surprise surprise...a fine or imprisonment. Also, if you are late for any reason other than public transport then you could also be subjected to a fine - one juror was given a fine of £150 for getting back from lunch 5mins late so best to be punctual! But as long as you behave like a sensible human being and not a naughty schoolchild you will escape penalty free.
Some people may find observing the legal procedures and general courtroom activity to be of interest, but most will probably find it all a little boring. Quite often the jury is asked to leave whilst the lawyers consult with the judge on matters that do not concern them so you do feel quite out of the loop. There also seems to be an awful lot of irrelevancy that creeps in. For example, on one of my cases (without going into specifics) at least 45mins was spent trying to determine the missing layout from a shoddy photograph the prosecution had provided (why they didn't photograph the area they wanted is a mystery to me still) by getting witnesses to describe the area and judging distances from points of reference in the court itself. None of which held any relevance to the case! Things do perk up a bit when a witness begins to be cross-examined as often a subtle, yet hostile approach is taken to see if the witness can be tripped up in their story to bring in doubt about their reliability and to see how cunning the lawyers can be is intriguing.
There will be some cases where the evidence you hear is incredibly upsetting, in fact I overheard some jurors mentioning that there was a case the week before I started that had several jurors leaving distraught and needing to talk to someone professional afterwards. But, the court is very mindful of the comfort of the jurors and if at any time you need to leave whether to use the toilet or if the case is really distressing you can get the attention of the court usher and leave court immediately. There will always be help at hand for any concerns you have about anything.
So, once both cases have been closed and the judge has given his instructions the jury then go into retirement to deliberate on their evidence. It is usual practice to elect a foreman / forewoman to chair the deliberation and to give the verdict in court. Typically a unanimous decision is required and this is where the deliberation process can become very frustrating if differences of opinions are too great as I experienced in one of my cases.
For me this was actually a pretty fun part of the process as I almost felt like an amateur sleuth trying to solve a mystery, well not so much a mystery but more trying to determine who was lying and who was telling the truth. I also got to practice my debating skills on people with very different opinions to myself. There is no fixed way to really go about the deliberation - one person will likely kick off by expressing their opinion which starts a discussion which can occasionally get a little heated!
It's bizarre, once you are sitting in court you think the verdict is easy to come by, but then the lawyers and judge will throw some legal jargon at you about reasonable doubt and such the like and suddenly it doesn't seem so simple. You may be utterly convinced that someone is guilty or innocent but have to weigh up the evidence to see if it substantiates that decision which is surprisingly difficult.
With a random selection of people you will get a lot of different backgrounds on the jury...with some jurors being more...how do I put it tactfully...logical and clear thinking than others. You will probably find that several people have dominant personalities which could lead to clashing if the case is complicated. In one of my cases 11 of us had fairly quickly reached the conclusion that Guilty was the right decision, but there was one stickler that refused to see it that way and so the unanimous decision was tantalisingly just out of reach. I took another 1hr to convince this person to change their mind - totally with just powers of persuasion, there were no threats against his life made, and then we could finally get out of there and into freedom.
I hope I haven't bored anyone too much but serving on a jury is surprisingly complex affair and I know from overhearing conversations that people can be quite worried beforehand so I hoped that by sharing my experiences I could help. From my observations you would be very unlucky to serve on a really nasty case, most of the cases seem to be stupid petty crimes (especially if you can get out of serving on a long trial), but if the worst thing happens and you do get a distressing one there are plenty of court staff to help you through it.
I actually only ended up serving for 6 days and even though you typically have to serve for 10 days it is unlikely you will be required for all of them unless your karma is particularly bad. Unfortunately you can be asked to serve again any number of times later in the future, but if it is within 2 years of your last sentence...I mean service then you can outright decline. But since it is a random selection you would be again very karmic challenged to get picked again.
So, despite constant threats of penalty fines and possible imprisonment I think the only thing to really fear about jury service is extended boredom and irate bosses. You may even feel a sense of satisfaction that you have performed an important civic duty and helped the legal system of this country run fairly. Yeah right - I just want my expenses back.