I’m one of those people who’ve been a juror more than once – twice within a five-year period to be exact – despite knowing only two other people who’ve been jurors even the once.
I admit to finding the process really interesting and, as I can still be called again – any time for the next 12 years (in the UK) – it’s just as well. As someone who finds people fascinating, the jury room can be rich resource.
During my first case, the foreman of the jury (for it was a man who volunteered and was co-opted) was clearly struggling to evaluate the evidence given by the main prosecution witness. He was not alone in this struggle for the jury was male in the majority. I challenged him – and the other men on the jury – to ask themselves whether it was the witness’s camp behaviour (and therefore his assumed sexuality) which made them feel uncomfortable? Some immediately denied it, others shifted uncomfortably. I stressed there was no judgement in my question, rather it was behaviour I’d often observed in heterosexual males and, as what mattered was us doing our jobs as jurors, I felt it was an important question for them to ask themselves. To give them their due, they all re-evaluated the evidence they’d heard – agreeing it felt clear, honest and solid. My action wasn’t inspired by the lecture we were given ahead of time by ushers, or by the judge once we were selected, rather it was inspired by one of those two people I know who’s been a juror.
A friend and colleague was called to jury duty at the Old Bailey in London. Our employers prepared the standard letter requesting that she not be assigned to anything long-term due to the impact it would have on them…. but she refused to hand it in. A massive fuss was made by HR and certain senior directors and, despite her own boss admitting he supported her in principle, he was refused any temporary cover for his department in an effort to get him to put pressure on her. Instead, what happened was that a small group within the company got together, offering to cover her work during her absence – and I was one of them. We worked long hours in order to get her work done on top of our own, we also had to forego taking leave for the six months the case lasted. But it was well worth it, for she not only served on the jury of an IRA killer, she was the foreperson. I much admired her courage in doing so, and was happy to have played a small part in allowing her to fulfil her role without it impacting on her future employment.
My jury duty was much more mundane and, on each occasion I was called, I arrived armed with that aforementioned letter explaining the potential hardship to my employer if appointed to a lengthy case (which I did hand in) for, on both occasions, I worked for tiny businesses where even a two week absence (over and above my annual leave) would cause extra work to fall on colleagues. There is no doubt that jury duty can cause both individuals and employers a genuine problem. It can cost money and future business when you’re self-employed, it can cost your employers if they need to obtain temporary support in your absence. A further issue is that employers are not obliged to pay you during that absence and your costs are unlikely to be covered by the daily allowance, let alone it being complex and expensive for those requiring childcare.
On neither occasion was I there more than the expected two weeks, and I’m grateful the cases I served on were not traumatising. The one change I would like to see made is that once you’ve served, you go to the back of any metaphorical queue. Additionally, if the case you’ve served on was traumatic, being removed from the queue altogether would be a kindness.
Have you been a juror? Would you like to be one? Would you hold your hand up to be jury foreperson?
© Debra Carey, 2021