What is it really like to be a juror?

Inside Crown Court: Personal experiences and questions of legitimacy by Jessica Jacobson, Gillian Hunter, Amy Kirby publishes today. It provides a vivid description of what it is like to attend court as a victim, a witness or a defendant; the interplay between the different players in the courtroom.

By sheer coincidence, our Editorial Assistant Rebecca Tomlinson, was called up late last year to serve as a juror in a crown court trial. We asked Rebecca to share her insights about the experience of being a juror. 

Rebecca Tomlinson, Editorial Assistant

Rebecca Tomlinson, Editorial Assistant

Nothing can prepare you for the moment you first step in the court room. All I could think about was not messing up my affirmation and avoiding eye contact with everyone possible. 

My initial feeling was one of dread. How could I be qualified to judge and possibly condemn someone for the rest of their life? It didn’t seem fair somehow – to the defendants or me – that something that could affect someone’s life forever could be decided by a group of strangers.

Once the feeling of dread had subsided however, I felt bound to my role and determined to do the best job I could do. I diligently took notes every day, even when things were happening so slowly it was hard to keep my eyes open. As a natural daydreamer I often had to fight the urge to drift off and think about my plans for the weekend or what I was going to have for dinner that night.

Harrowing

It wasn’t all dull though. Seeing both the prosecution and defence lawyers manipulate and explain the ‘facts’ was fascinating; when objections arose it was exciting. It was also, a lot of the time, quite harrowing and, all of the time, very sad.

As the weeks passed I became accustomed to listening to the awful details but the thoughts of what I had heard that day never quite left me once I got home. The hardest and most tiring thing about the whole process was not being able to talk about it once I left the courtroom. There is no other situation in most people’s daily lives where they are bound by law not to talk about what has happened to them that day. It’s such a strange feeling that becomes so ingrained into your thinking that even writing this now feels wrong in some way.

“…the thoughts of what I had heard that day never quite left me once I got home”

What I read in Jacobson’s book about the role of the juror being completely contradictory was my experience exactly. Every day we were asked to look at only the facts of the case, not to speculate and strictly not to let our emotions rule us in any way. Yet in the very next breath we would be bombarded with emotive language describing the victim or the defendant and asking us to imagine how we would feel if we or someone we loved were in the same situation.

As the weeks (and months…) passed my fellow jurors and I became gradually more hardened and emotionally detached and even found ourselves laughing and joking whilst waiting to go into court. I wouldn’t say that we forgot about the seriousness of the allegations but there was definitely a more relaxed feeling among us.

That is, of course, until it was time for us to retire and give our verdicts. During our 3 months together we had not always seen eye-to-eye and had, reluctantly, been drawn into arguments and debates that we should have all risen above. In the deliberating room, it was no different. As the days went by with still no decisions made, our tempers were frayed and our patience worn out.

However, that is the best thing about having 12 random strangers come together to make this type of decision. When we ran out of things to say and thought we were getting nowhere, someone who hadn’t spoken all day would mention something we’d all missed and everything started to become clear.

It took us 8 days in total to reach our verdict and, in the end, I was mostly happy with our decisions. As I sit here at my desk writing this post I can’t help but smile while reminiscing. If there’s one thing I can definitely say, it is that it was 3 months of my life I will never forget!

If you’d like to, you can also follow Rebecca on twitter @TPPrebecca

Inside Crown Court [FC]Inside Crown Court: Personal experiences and questions of legitimacy by Jessica Jacobson, Gillian Hunter, Amy Kirby publishes today. A launch event for the book is being held this evening at the Royal Courts of Justice.

 

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