This week, I completed my second and final week of my jury service experience. Before I go any further, I need to stress that I cannot talk about any specific details of any cases, so if you are here hoping to read some intricate details about a juicy murder or anything like that, you’ve come to the wrong place…
I’m writing this as I was both excited by the prospect of jury service, but my anxiety also made me incredibly nervous about a number of things. I hope by writing this I can ease some anxieties that you may have if you have too been summoned.
What is jury service?
For those who aren’t aware, jury service here in the UK requires you to go to court and form part of a 12 person jury to hear and try cases. As someone who is fascinated by crime documentaries, and has studied aspects of criminology and forensic psychology, I was really quite excited to have been selected.
Jury selection is a random process from beginning to end. You are randomly chosen from the electoral register and receive a lovely pink summons in the post. At first, some of the information can seem a little overwhelming, but it will all make sense as you embark on your civil duties!
It worth knowing that you can defer if you have been summoned at an inconvenient time, such as during exam periods at university or if you are having a personal trauma. You can, however, only defer once, so if or when you get summoned again, you have to attend or you may face a hefty £1,000 fine.
What can I expect on the first day of jury service?
On your first day of jury service, you will be given all the directions and instructions you need from the Jury Officer at the court. You will also be shown a Government video that outlines what exactly it is you are being asked to do. One thing I was really anxious about was the court itself. I had no idea where I was going or what to expect from the building. For me, it was really simple and easy. You had to go through a scanner just like at the airport on your entrance to the main building and then I simply asked at reception where to go and I was taken through to the Jury Pool Room.
A big part of the jury service experience is waiting, and potentially quite a lot of it. There will be a dedicated room at the court for jury members only, known as a Jury Pool Room. It’s a little bit like an airport waiting lounge, or a slightly dressed up doctors waiting area, but it serves its purpose. Our room had a few vending machines with snacks and hot drinks, pretty rubbish Wi-Fi, a few board games and books and two tv screens. I would recommend taking a book or two with you just to make sure you don’t end up bored, as you are not allowed to leave this room unless you have been selected for a court jury or have been told you can break for lunch by the Jury Officer.
You will probably find that some people are naturally chattier than others here; I tended to keep to myself with my head in a book as I get a bit anxious around new people and the room was really busy on my first day.
What happens when you are selected for a jury?
A court usher will come into the pool room and will call a selection of names that have been randomly generated (in our court, 18 names were called for a prospective jury). Your group would then be taken to the court where the case is being tried. The name of the defence lawyers, defendants and any witnesses will be read to you to ensure that you are completely impartial and objective and do not know anybody involved in the case. If you do recognise any names, you must let the usher know immediately and you will be taken off the prospective jury list. If you are not familiar with anybody in the trial, then you may still be selected. The court clerk will again randomly generate 12 names to form the final jury for the case. When your name is called, you need to take the next available seat in the jury box and await further instruction from the judge.
What can I expect when the trial begins?
The next step involves being ‘sworn in’. This essentially means you are confirmed as a jury member and you promise not to share any details of the case with anybody outside the courtroom and to give a verdict according to the evidence presented to you. You can choose to swear by any Holy book, or you can affirm, which is a non-religious statement. After the jury is sworn in, the trial can begin.
I personally found the whole experience of the trial really interesting. Seeing how different personalities react to different pressurised situations, how people cope with nerves, how people can interpret the same information in a totally different way… It all fascinated me.
Truthfully, I find the more serious cases completely intriguing, but I wasn’t sure how I would personally cope with potentially seeing an image of a dead body or something along those lines. I was fairly lucky in that none of the evidence in my case was gruesome or gory, so I didn’t have to mentally deal with that myself. However, if you are finding something difficult in court or you just need a break, you can let the usher know and the jury will be escorted out for as long as you need. You can also speak to the Jury Officer if you are really finding the information hard to cope with. Whilst in court, you can also pass messages to the judge via the usher. This can be any questions you have about the case, or any clarification you need. It’s really important that you ask if you don’t understand anything, as you need to be fully informed when you break off for deliberation.
What is the jury deliberation process like?
When all the evidence has been presented to you, jury deliberation can begin. You will be taken to a smaller room where the 12 of you can decide on a verdict. You will also have to decide on a spokesperson who will read out your verdict to the courtroom. It is really important that no matter how shy or nervous you may be, that you go with whatever verdict you believe is correct. It’s also okay to change your mind based on the discussion, sometimes hearing things from another perspective or reviewing evidence in discussion with others can really clarify things. Whilst in deliberation, you can also still ask questions or clarify things with the judge. There will be a button or buzzer in the deliberation room that will summon an usher that will take your note up to the judge and they will then come and collect you when the judge is ready to answer your question, as this has to be done in open court with all defendants and lawyers present.
When a verdict has been decided, you will again need to buzz and let the usher know. Once everybody is ready, you will then be taken back up to court and the spokesperson will read out the verdict to the judge. This can be quite a tense moment for the jury and the defendants, but try not to let it worry you and try to remain calm.
What to expect when you have given your verdict
Once you have given your verdict, the judge will discuss sentencing (if the defendant is found guilty). This usually happens at a later date, but sometimes defendants can be sentenced there and then. For me, this was the end of my time as a jury member. The judge dismissed us as sentencing would be taking place a few weeks later.
Overall, I really enjoyed my jury service experience. The first day was a bit scary as it was all so new and different, and I’m not the best in groups of new people, but the actual experience of sitting in court and hearing details of a case really was fascinating for me. I’m 100% sure that myself and my jury made the right decision in our case, and it does feel quite rewarding too!
If you have been summoned for jury service and have any questions, please let me know and I will do my best to help and reassure you!