(Jury Service - The Trial - Days 4 & 5 - a Crown Court in London)
by Paul Singer - MD, London Fine Dining Group
If you were thinking that the trial itself (or the blog version of it) might be juicy and full of sex, murder and intrigue, dream on. Not only wasn't it, but I am bound by some sort of law never to divulge the content of the trial upon pain of death (or worse).
I can't even tell you the name of the Defendant - although we could, I suppose, play a game of legal hangman, where you try to guess it, one letter at a time, until either you are correct or I get hanged.
So in place of all the juicy (or non-juicy) details of the trial, you will have to be content with another blog about the process of the trial, its (anonymous) participants and its (unspecified) outcome.
Firstly, we are now all locked in a jury deliberation room. And I do mean LOCKED. No escape, except in the case of a fire. There's a loo in our suite and a bell to summon the jury bailiff but not much else. We have had our phones and all other electronic devices taken away from us. We are totally cut off from the world - destined to spend as long as takes in here to reach a verdict. All we have is paper, pens, the exhibits and 12 good men (or women) - and some of them are very vocal - whereas some of them say practically nothing.
There are 2 lawyers on the jury - including me. Neither of us practise criminal law. And exactly as predicted by everyone I know, and despite me trying to look as unhelpful as possible, I have just been elected Jury Foreman. Oh, bliss.
We take a quick initial vote. We are not unanimous. I can't tell you the actual vote but let's just say that we are going to be here a while.
During the course of the deliberation, some of the jurors begin to look like they would happily murder some of the other jurors, which might be why they don't let you bring any sharp objects into court. A bunch of us contemplate committing murder with a plastic yoghurt spoon but it wouldn't be pretty or quick. The window only opens about 3cm so the "throwing the non-cooperative juror(s) out of the window" idea has gone out of the window - just.
It's hotter and sweatier in here than the defendant's collar.
The judge is obviously bored and far from pleased that things are taking this long.
It's an open and shut case, he says, looking over the top of his glasses, but he's not making eye contact with any of us so might be talking about his lunchbox, for all anyone listens.
Counsel for the Defence is tapping his/her fingers on a big black book which looks like the Hogwarts book of legal spells, as if trying to bewitch us into a not-guilty verdict.
Counsel for the Prosecution is gazing at his/her Macbook Pro (probably ordering tonight's dinner, downloading porn, or watching The Voice on catch-up, for all we know).
One lady juror is getting particularly agitated on account of the lack of smoking facilities in the deliberation room. She protests that it is her legal and constitutional right to smoke and that she should be let out for that purpose. The judge is not convinced. He says the jury has to remain together during their entire period of deliberation and that she can only be allowed outside to smoke if everyone goes outside! And so it came to pass that all 12 of us had to be herded like sheep and escorted from the building by a burly jury bailiff who watched over us like a hawk as the aforementioned nicotine addict got her fix (twice) in the space of about 3 minutes.
Then, later, much, much later, one of the other women began to fret that she would not be home in time to collect her children from school. The jury bailiff was summoned again and asked if she could phone a friend. The answer was no. She was ordered to write her message on a piece of paper for it to be handed to the judge for his permission for someone in the court office to call her children's school.
I began to visualise us all being locked in the Tower that evening or at least the Tower Hotel, if we weren't done.
But in the end, we did our duty and the Judge briefly looked up to bid us a fond farewell and thank us for our time and attention in a speech which he must have given thousands of times, and he sounded thoroughly fed up and insincere when he made it, reading from a card, like Ant and Dec reading from an autocue machine.
The "release" from jury service was a bit of an anti-climax compared to the initiation.
The ritual handing back of the iPhones, Blackberries and other confiscated electronic devices.
A final warning about not spilling the beans regarding any facts of the case, its verdict, the deliberation or any other matter of which we had knowledge as jurors - so presumably that included not spilling the beans about the beans in the canteen, too.
I wish I could say that the entire jury service experience had been spiritually rewarding or satisfying in terms of social responsibility but, in reality, most jurors would rather have just been at work or going about their normal business than being herded like cattle and treated like the criminals whose cases we were being asked to try.