Last year I got ‘the letter’ which summoned me to Jury Service for the middle two weeks of January 2014. Although it was a bit of a pain organising things at work around this, I was quite looking forward to participating in the justice system. Doing my civic duty and all that. I even watched the classic film ’12 Angry Men’ as part of my preparation…
So I have just spent the last two weeks at Croydon Crown Court. Sadly, it has been a very disillusioning experience.
Before anyone gets worried, I am not about to disclose confidential information regarding a trial I was involved in. In fact it would be impossible to do so -because the truth is that I never got to be part of a jury in any trial.
In terms of meaningful engagement in the criminal justice process, over the last two weeks I have done precisely nothing.
Instead of being actively engaged in our world-renown justice system, I have spent the time sitting in a waiting room, having cups of coffee, reading, checking emails on my phone, chatting to fellow potential jurors and eating at a subsidised canteen.
The experience it has most closely resembled for me is a departure lounge at an airport. But instead of the anticipation of a nice holiday, everyone waiting was simply looking forward to being told they can leave for the day.
Late on the first Monday, after a day of waiting, I was one of fifteen potential jurors called into court. However three are discarded at random to create the 12 needed for the jury. I was one of the three so I duly headed back to the waiting room.
It was in the waiting room I remained until Thursday, when I was picked to go into another trial. This time we were told that this trial was likely to go on beyond two weeks. Work commitments meant that this was impossible for me so I was allowed to go. Back to the waiting room.
These two brief experiences turned out to be only times I was in a court room during the whole two weeks. During the whole of the second week, I was not called for any jury at all – I just sat around waiting. There were lots of trials being cued up but they either seem to be delayed, collapsed or stuck in pre-trial legal arguments.
I need to say that the staff at the Court did their best to keep communicating with us. They did a lot of apologising for the situation. Other Jurors were saying things like ‘If this was a business, it wouldn’t last long’. I had to agree. I am no expert in what was causing the delays but with the days starting at 10.00am and ending at 4.30pm, with hour-long lunch breaks, the impression I got was of a pretty flabby system which needs a good shake-up.
I was interested to read the thoughts of the former Home Secretary, David Blunkett, someone a lot more clued up than me on such things. It seems he had a similar experience and wrote this after he was called up for Jury Service in Sheffield:
“For my own jury experience left me staggered by the sheer waste of time and public money resulting from the chaos in our courts. Jurors had to sit around for days on end as trial after trial was cancelled because defendants or witnesses failed to turn up, or because barristers had double-booked, or members of the legal profession connived to stymie the judicial process.”
You can read the full article here: David Blunkett: Doing jury service has made me realise how cynical lawyers have reduced court to an expensive, shambolic farce
I would give the experience 2/10 – and that’s being a tad generous. However, I know some people have really enjoyed their Jury Service and felt part of something important.
If you have done Jury Service how would you rate the experience out of ten and why? And remember, lets have the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
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18 thoughts on “The truth about Jury Service”
I’m due Jury service at the Central Criminal Court later in the year…I will let you know!
Mid January – 2 or 3 years ago I had a similar experience … I only went inside the court room to be showed round at the start. And we didn’t have a ‘subsided canteen’ (nice one!). At least the collar I wear got me sent home a couple of days early (why?).
It would be interesting to hear a defence of the system from someone who has been in it long enough to know some of the obstacles to reform – is it just cynical lawyers? Is it an intrinsically hard process to organise? How much of the waiting follows from what are truly requirements of justice? I don’t know the answers.
Yes – anyone know any lawyers who can defend the system?!
Does David Blunkett answer all my questions?!
The cost to the state of broken or cracked cases (the two terms used, depending on whether the problem occurs at the beginning of the case or during it) is enormous, and whilst the cost of the jury is a big part of that, it is not the only part. I have not read any of David Blunketts story but the resolution is in the hands of the Government of the day and it is complex and it demands an investment in a service that no one wants to pay for (our Courts Service is the Cinderella of the CJS). Sadly Nick Herbert did not get his way – he wanted to extend the work of PCCs to include the Courts and Probation. It seems unlikely that this will now happen.
I’ve had the privilege of doing jury service twice and I’ve loved it both times. I guess I just got lucky.
thanks Simon – good to hear. I know someone else who said it was the best thing they had ever done so clearly many do have good experiences.
As someone who has worked in the Court Service for over twenty years, I can honestly say that it is a mixed basket – there will always be those who really enjoyed the experience and those who did not. The former category tend to be those people who were called to serve in trials that either ran the whole two weeks (or beyond) or consecutively; the latter being those who were not called at all. The system is not broken, but does need improvement. Most of what was highlighted in the article appertains to what goes on behind the scenes – for example, the ‘hours worked’ do not reflect the reading time that the judges have to do (often taking work home with them) so that they are often more clued up on the cases than the barristers, and the other paperwork that they need to do in order to ensure that the wheels of justice are at least oiled. Another reason why jurors are not called is because the court is listening to legal arguments, which means that a fair trial will take place (if it can be established that it should take place at all). I apologise for the long response, but I hope that it gives a flavour of what happens backstairs.
Thanks Andrew – that’s really helpful and I appreciate your response. It helps explain the reasons behind the reality. It makes me think that expectations could have been managed better – It would have helped me to have it set out beforehand that a lot of the week will be spent waiting and, crucially, why. We just got apologies and it gave a bad impression – whereas having the actual updates on which trials are stuck and why would have helped educate those like me who were simply waiting.
Two experiences. First at the Old Bailey. Never got called out of the waiting room, and on third day, split my trousers. I went to see a lady who told me to take them off and she’d sow them up. Luckily she was joking and signed me off – fully.
Also, on the morning of the first day, there was a potential juror, standing there dishevelled, wearing a suit so crumpled it must have been at the bottom of a wardrobe under piles of clothing for years. I was astonished to still see him there at the end of the first day.
Second was at Harrow where I got called for two. After the first, I felt the system of “hands up if guilty” etc was wrong. Some simply seemed to be following others. So a few of us on the second trial decided to implement it a bit better. Firstly though, we had to give the oath in court and a man stood and he was given the card to read. He couldn’t read it, so the court usher read it for him, with him repeating words back. Or at least he tried to. The court usher looked a bit concerned about that, and I thought, surely they’ll kick him out, but no he stayed.
In our deliberations this time, we decided to go round the table, ask ‘guilty, not guilty or undecided’, and more importantly, say why. It got to an older lady who hadn’t seemed to take the first trial seriously. She said “guilty” and was asked why. She said, “did you see the shirt he was wearing?” and burst out laughing.
We got through it, but it left me feeling that I’d never want to be a defendant, laying all my hopes on a jury.
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Years ago I attended a workshop let by the local District Attorney (DA) and Associate DA (ADA). It was held at a university. We were told that especially in drug trials college educated people were rarely selected for a jury. The ADA said a college graduate is schooled in seeing a range of hypothetical situations. Even when a perpetrator was caught with substantial amounts of illegal substances, the educated juror rarely stated a personal was guilty. The “word” was these jurors argued that the defendant might have been framed, unaware the drugs were there, etc. Similar stories for other trials. I found this disheartening. When evidence is technical, the jury should be able to understand it – and make a decision that is not based on “fashion.”
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It is the little changes that will make the greatest changes.
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I hardly know where to begin…I couldn’t agree with you more!! I have just completed jury service, also at Croydon Crown Court! It was the most appalling waste of time and taxpayers money. I NEVER WAS CALLED UP FOR ANY PANEL!!! Never saw the inside of a courtroom other than for induction!!
Like you, it’s been a highly disillusioning experience – jury service was something I always fancied and bemoaned for years I never got summoned when others who were so reluctant did!!
BORED BORED BORED is the summary of my past 2 weeks. And I’ve been released a day early!! Case after case after case collapsed – on only one day did more than a third scheduled proceed. Before Easter the majority of potential jurors were released before lunchtime 3 days before Good Friday as all 3 trials failed to go ahead! We were not needed again for another week and I had to go back to work for 2 days!!
This week we got down to the last 16….2 trials scheduled but they clearly knew at least one would fall by the wayside as not enough jurors were available!We were released at 11.45 till 2pm, told a trial was starting then… By 3pm we were all released and told nothing now till the following week and anyone on their second week was now discharged!
SHOCKING INEFFICIENCY. AND A FLAWED, FAILING SYSTEM WHICH REQUIRES A MAJOR SHAKE-UP. Throughout the court staff were largely invisible and unsympathetic, they did the bare minimum, took the register in the morning, told us when to go to lunch, when we were permitted to go home but gave no updates – very poor communication which just frustrated me more.
I’M SO GLAD IT IS OVER!!!
I just finished my jury duty and it was very interesting. I felt quite proud to be performing my civic duty.
Thanks Berto – good to hear you enjoyed it
Random question. Can I take a laptop into the waiting room? I.e. can you work whilst you’re there?