Saturday, 26 November 2011

New Look, Crown Court and Wild Wind

I decided to have a new look for my blog, hope you like it.  We're having wild weather here, gale force winds and rain, until now November has been very gentle on us weather-wise, so can't complain.  I'm glad to be at home all warm and snug.  This is my least favourite month of the year, but because the weather has been ok until recently and the fact I've had a little break away it hasn't felt too bad.

Last week I was on jury service at the Crown Court.  It was the first time I had been called up and it was a fascinating experience.  We were looked after throughout by the jury bailiff, Steve, who was great. About 16 of us were chosen randomly by the computer from the people that had been called in for jury service that week. We were taken down into the courtroom and names were called out, if your name was called you had to say "Yes" and then go to sit in the next available place on the jury bench. At this point if there were any objections to jury members, or jury members and witnesses/defendants knew each other objections are voiced. The remaining uncalled people were taken out of the courtroom back to the jury waiting area.  We were then sworn in and sat back and finally able to really take in the courtroom.

It was a huge big room with a very high ceiling.  To our right on a raised platform was the judge, he was a "red" judge, signifying he was a High Court judge, the red coming from the red robe with white fur facings he wore under his back gown.  He also wore a short fawn-coloured wig.  In front of him, on a lower level to the judge, was the court clerk who wore a wig and black gown.  At the same level in front and to the right of us and the clerk's bench was the witness box.  Opposite the clerk were the prosecution and defence barristers who also wore black gowns and wigs.  To our left behind the barristers was a secure, partitioned area where the defendant sat with a security officer.  Opposite the jury benches and to the right there was the court usher.  To the left were seats where the public could sit and also the press bench. There were some small windows very high up behind us, but otherwise there was no link to the city outside.  It felt very much a separate world, with its own protocol and rules.

We had very long spells in the court two and a half hours each in the mornings and afternoons with no break.  When we had the lunch break the jury was the first to leave court and then last to return.  And there was everyone, back in exactly the same place, and whatever had been happening before the break picked up again as if time had just stood still for an hour while we had been at lunch. Weird.

I was fascinated to watch the various members of the court working as the case continued, especially the Judge who was constantly writing.  Everything is done much more slowly than you see on TV of course! Things that at first seemed insignificant were shown to be important as the case developed.  It took two days for all the statements and cross examinations to be done. Then the prosecution and defence barristers gave their final speeches, in one case with a real flourish.  Finally the judge summed up and I realised why he had been writing so much.  His summary took almost two hours and he went through all the statements in detail, I was well impressed.  He also gave us guidance on how to approach deliberating about the case.

Then Steve, the jury bailiff, took us to the jury room for our deliberation.  In the room was a large table with 12 chairs (very comfortable thank heavens!) and toilets.  We could not leave the room at all (the door was alarmed apparently) except to go back into the courtroom. Our only contact outside of the room was via the jury bailiff who we contacted by pressing a buzzer.  If we wanted to have more information or guidance, ask about a point of law or give a verdict we had to write our request on a piece of paper and contact the bailiff who would pass the message to the court and judge. We would then be summoned back into the courtroom for the answer as everything, except the deliberation, is done in the court itself.

I found it hard work mentally, as you have to listen very hard to the evidence and take note of all you can, being a jury member is a very important role and not to be taken lightly.  Each night I went home with my mind buzzing and a headache.  After almost four days, the case was finished, and it was with some relief that we left that room and the rarefied world of the Crown Court for the last time and emerged into the real world of the city on a wild, windy November afternoon.