Jury Service... my views and experiences

(Quietly raging at the slip of the fingers that caused me to have to write this blog twice!!!)

Several weeks ago i received my (first ever) summons to attend Jury Service. I happen to relish the fact I live in a civil society where the right to trial-by-jury-of-peers is entrenched, and innocent-until-proven-guilty is the same. So I was actually quite excited by the prospect.

(My employer, slightly less so, but they're good enough to pay wages to staff who are on Jury Service. some don't!)

I didn't have a reasonable reason to seek to be excused from Jury service. Several people I observed when I turned up at court did, one for family (kid-related) reasons, and a few more due to being language-challenged (strong english is required). So I plowed on.

The night before - so, last Sunday - @vaughndavis tweeted a blog entry by @simonemccallum - about her recent Jury Service experience. Simone: Thanks heaps for your timely blog entry (and tweet) - it gave me some useful perspective on the eve of my service!

So after turning up at the appointed time - metal detector and x-ray machines ala airport-security part-in-parcel - I queued up with the other 100+ called jurors to get checked off and then sit in the Juror Assembly room.

Eventually (by the way, a good book and a smartphone are your best friend at these things!) a short DVD is played to introduce the court process, and the players (judge, registrar, clerk, lawyers, defendent, witnesses, jurors). After this the balloting begins; 35 panel-candidates at a time are drawn randomly for each selection.

The first move was to draw 35 names who were to return the following day for cases scheduled to start on the Tuesday. They were sent home (or to work). This was repeated for Wednesday cases, leaving another 30 or so people (including myself).

We were all then taken up to a courtroom where the first of the Monday-starting cases was kicking off. After the defendent comes in, the indictment is read, and the lawyers are introduced. The plea is always not guilty at this stage (as if the plea is guilty, the Jury isn't required). Of the Jurors sitting in the Gallery, a further ballot is taken of 12 names who will head up to the jury box one at a time. The solicitors from either side can issue a 'challenge' at any stage between read-out and sit-down; the challenge will usually be based on considerations such as where you live or work in relation to the defendant (or perhaps the witnesses or someone else associated with the case). The lawyers are seeking a balanced jury, obviously with both sides having a limited number of challenges (4 each) they have to in the end, aim for an even balance as their best bet.

I wasn't selected for the first jury (not drawn from the ballot) so back downstairs we headed. Eventually they let us go for lunch.

After lunch we were treated to some TV (Dr Phil! No Adam Sandler films, sorry Simone) and killed some more time until the next (final) trial for the day was teed up. Off we toddled.

This time I was balloted (selected) and was not challenged. The Jury I was teamed up with was an interesting cross-section; being that I was at Manukau District Court the demographics represented were fairly typical; 4 'white' faces, 4 asian faces of varying types, and 4 Maori/Pacific Islanders. The age cross-section was from early 20's to late 50's, at a guess. Some interesting characters.

I'm not going to go into too many details about the case, but the gist was that introductory statements from both prosecution and defence were made, and we were sent home for the day. The next morning - so, this morning - witness testimony kicked off.

We had two witnesses. The first was just that - someone who observed what transpired.
The second was actually the victim. (Interestingly, their testimony was interrupted for morning tea!)

After two witnesses, there was a bit of a 'situation' with one of the arguments presented by the defence, and the judge asked the Jurors to depart the room for a while; on our return we had a revised indictment for a lesser charge, against which the defendent plead guilty. This meant we weren't needed anymore. The judge very kindly thanked us for our service, and we were dismissed. Before lunch!

I realise my time as a juror was cut short (only a shade longer than a half day); we never actually got to deliberate and deliver a verdict (the Judge was apologetic!) - but given the way the case was going, the guilty plea (for a lesser charge) was actually by far the more appropriate outcome, I expect.

I am however very glad to have done my bit - it was an interesting experience to see the back-and-forth between the lawyers and the witnesses, the judge interjecting with legal points, the lawyers issuing objections, and in a real context (as opposed to the usual TV stuff). If you get the chance to do it, you should make the most of it, and take it on board as part of 'the civil experience'. An important part of living in a developed society!