'I, on the other hand, found the whole experience extremely disturbing. It has also bothered me about how unengaged we all were as a group in the actual proceedings.'
Being summoned for jury service some 15 months after Robert, my then partner, was jailed at the same courthouse came as something of a shock, but also thrilled me as I would get an opportunity to see how this aspect of the judicial system worked. I was eager to see what went on behind the scenes and would, hopefully, find myself sitting in one of the courtrooms on the other side of the fence, as it was.
Nothing could have prepared me for finding myself sitting in the same courtroom in a he said/she said sexual assault trial, presided over by the very same judge who had sat in the very same seat throughout Robert’s trial, ultimately handing down his seven year prison sentence. I found myself looking over at the public gallery and gazed upon the spot which I had been sitting in during Roberts trial, and it was occupied by a lone female on this occasion too. I had often wondered what the jury members must have thought of me sitting there alone, supporting a person accused of such wicked crimes. Today I answered my own curiosity; I had no idea who she was or why she was sitting there.
My fellow jury members were a pretty mixed bag of seemingly intelligent people, and I found myself witnessing a fight for supremacy of being elected the coveted role of jury foreman. On this occasion, it was bestowed upon the strongest alpha female - not an alpha male, as was the case in Robert's trial.
This stirred a memory of leaving court on day two of his trial, and this person (the appointed jury foreman) had mouthed “You fucking nonce” at Robert from his car. This was duly reported to Robert’s barrister the following day for us only to be informed that “nothing could be done about it”. That was, in fact, a complete lie. The incident should have been reported to the court clerk who should have acted immediately to find the member and remove from the jury selection.
The judge in both cases was a man of very little height: something which you would never have known had you not been privy to the behind the scenes experience of which I was now part. This answered another question which had been bugging me. At one point during the trial, and upon court resuming, as everyone returned to session we witnessed Robert laughing in the dock.
I saw it, the jury saw it, the barristers saw it and we were all visibly disgusted. It was only after a telephone conversation later discussing the tininess of the judge that I was enlightened about his outburst. The female custody officer who had been locked into the dock with him had made a crack about his height and that he sat on a block, otherwise he wouldn’t be visible in the courtroom. It had me wondering how many other defendants, in similar situations, had found themselves giggling at these types of stories, much to their detriment come the time of judgment.
Robert’s trial lasted three days and concluded on the 22nd December at around 4pm. I thought a lot, at that time, about the timings of trials held around the festive period. How can normal people be expected to be mentally engaged in nothing more than making decisions of this magnitude when it has begun snowing heavily outside and it only being three days until Christmas day? The deliberations lasted no longer than an hour and resulted in a guilty verdict.
In the trial in which I was a jury member, outside of our deliberations it became blatantly obvious that a number of the members were wholly pissed off at having been called, others were enthralled with the whole performance, while one other clearly had plans to draw things out for as long as possible as he was having fun.
I, on the other hand, found the whole experience extremely disturbing. It has also bothered me about how unengaged we all were as a group in the actual proceedings. None of us took any minutes during the trial and at one point this found us back in the courtroom asking, quite frankly, embarrassing questions of the judge.
I’m not daft enough to discuss the minutes of any deliberations which were had during the course of the trial, but I left the whole experience completely satisfied that my long held belief that juries are not fit for purpose was correct. By their very nature human beings are curious. Being directed by a bloke wearing a wig and fancy bathrobe - speaking the Queen's finest English - to not use the device sitting in your locker to look up those whose fate you will ultimately determine, is ludicrous.
And let's face it, unless you are actually caught in the act or disclose having done so and they report you, the chances of you being charged with a criminal offence or contempt of court - a crime which carries a prison sentence of up to two years, a heavy fine or both - are at best slim to zero. Overall, in my opinion, juries are made up by a majority of people who are settled into a prejudiced way before they are sat deciding the fate of another. They are outdated and reliant on the members being objective. That is impossible in this day and age.
Only days before this book was published an incredibly interesting podcast “I’m innocent, I tell you” was broadcast on YouTube. Dr Michael Naughton, Director of Empowering the Innocent (ETI) and a Reader of Sociology and Law, at Bristol University, speaks about miscarriages of justice and wrongful convictions. He is interviewed by Richard Vobes.
During a debate about the perceived wrongful conviction of Clive Freeman they touch on the point about the appropriateness of modern day juries in order to decide the guilt or innocence of their peers, in light of media sway and the prejudice that I bring up above. Dr Naughton regaled a story from some years ago whereby a colleague had informed him of her soon to be stint on jury service. She made the throwaway comment that the defendant “Had better not be a druggie or a rapist, because I hate druggies and rapists”. Well quite, don’t we all?
But the fact of the matter is that regardless of any contempt you may harbour towards these members of society, you have been selected to remain impartial throughout the trial, to consider the facts in the case, and deliver a verdict based solely on your belief (after being given all of the evidence) as to the probability of guilt or innocence of the person on trial.
By Emma Wells
Emma is the author of Unseen Victims. Click here for information.
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