I finished 11 days of jury service the other day. It was sobering and grown-up and bleak and it felt worthwhile. I made some temporary friends with other jurors and was privileged to sit on two juries. I laughed a lot, considering.
Having worked with HMCTS for nearly ten years, it was great to see their work for real. All of the court staff, from the contract security teams to the jury co-ordinators to the ushers and court clerks were super-professional and clearly mindful of how unfamiliar the whole process was to the 80 of us in their charge.
The legal process, when done properly, appears a very stop-start business and it’s hard not to consider the cutbacks in the staffing of courts when one trial was halted so that the defence could go to collect a witness in person. It’s clear that shuffling resources (court rooms, judiciary, court staff and jurors) is a bit of an art.
Both judges I saw were unbelievably cool. You know that thing where who the smartest person in the room is isn’t in doubt? That. Their balance between maintaining strict process and helping twelve idiots to understand what was going on was amazing in both cases. They both had very different styles but, man, you wouldn’t take either of them on at either fencing or chess.
We talk a lot about the burden of proof in criminal cases as part of my work. It’s interesting that “beyond reasonable doubt”, being plain English words, can be interpreted so widely by normal adults (including all five barristers I listened to, albeit in their cases to the benefit of their cases).
In the jury room, I heard “I’m certain” down to “I think”. This must happen all the time. The widest gap in interpretation can be summed up in this sentence, quoted verbatim, when I was left on the wrong side of the fence, with still a ton of questions in my notes:
“The thing is matthew, you’re trying to be analytical, but I’m just going with my gut”.
Justice was definitely done, but you can see how fragile a thing it is.