Sarah Halford

Architecture and Ceramics

all rise

Last week I was called for Jury Service at the High Court in Edinburgh. I thought it might be interesting and cathartic to write about the experience, and I think it’s a good idea to post it here. Obviously I won’t be publishing any of the details of the deliberations, or things that were said in the jury deliberation room, as that would be contemptuous.

I received the letter containing my citation a week before the first court date. I contained a lot of info, including a booklet of information for jurors. One of the interesting things it said was that you may feel nervous at the first day in court, but that should diminish in the second and third days. it also gave info on where to go, what to take, how to dress and what was likely to happen.

I called the Juror Helpline over the weekend, as instructed, and was told via a recorded message that we weren’t required for the first day of the citation. On Monday I called again, and was told to go in for 1:30 on Tuesday. That day all the possible jurors attended – 60 of us – and were immediately told that there was a ‘legal ballot’ which had prevented the trial from starting and the jury from being selected, so we were to come back on Wednesday morning. One gentleman had quite a few questions about this as the Clerk told us, and I was hoping I wouldn’t be stuck in a room with him for too long. We were also told that it was to be a four day ‘diet’, so not too long of a trial, and I guessed it would be either straightforward or not too serious a case [ie not a lot of victims to be witnesses]. I wasn’t too worried; the likelihood of being picked is 1:4, and a four day trial wouldn’t be so bad.

The next day all 60 of us were back at the High Court. We were taken to one of the courts and the layout of the court was explained. It was more modern than I was expecting. There were three seats for judges, jury on the left, prosecution and defense faced each other across a large table in the centre, witness box to the right and the defendant sat facing the judge in front of the public gallery.

It surprised me that the public gallery didn’t get a good view of the defendant, and also that the witness ‘box’ was really a platform, so the witnesses had to stand while giving evidence.

The Clerk gave us the details of the case, with all the prospective jurors in the room. It was a drugs trial, a four day diet, and the defendant and the police witnesses were from Montrose, so if we knew anyone from Montrose we should say now. She also gave the name of the defendant.

The Clerk went to the front and drew fifteen names of the potential jurors out of the glass vase in front of her. I was chosen, and walked as asked into the court and took my seat.

After we had taken our allocated seats in the jury box, the judge spoke to us briefly and we were taken to a deliberation room where we could call work to let them know we had been chosen for the jury. The atmosphere in the room was very strange, and I was very aware that the other 45 people were still waiting in the gallery, and that could easily have been me. We were them sworn in.

After the rest of the potential jury were excused by the judge, we were told that for some reason the trial couldn’t begin yet, so we would take a break until lunch and reconvene after lunch, which would be provided. We were taken back to the deliberation room by the jury handler, who looked after us for the duration of the trial. We were told we could leave the building but we were to come back for lunch. I went out to the library which is nearby, and was very glad of having some fresh air and a bit of a walk, even though it was in driving rain and I got soaked. When I went back for lunch I was surprised that most of the jurors had sat in that airless room for over two hours. It was very quiet over lunch, we were all waiting for the trial to start. Obviously you usually take social cues from others in any situation, but being a group of necessarily randomly selected people, there was no common ground and no way to read the situation. I was very uncomfortable – it was like being at a dinner party that you hadn’t been invited to and couldn’t leave. I couldn’t help but think about the defendant; where was he? What did he get to eat?

In the afternoon we heard the evidence of two civilians and a police witness, then were told that was the end of the first day and to meet tomorrow at 9:30am. The second day we heard more evidence from police. By this point I was more comfortable, but not completely at ease. The defendant was sitting in court when we arrived, and we left before they did. When the jury went into the court, everyone was in their places, so we all sat down as quickly as possible and took out our paper and pens [court provided] with as little disruption as we could. Some of us took extensive notes, some none at all. It wasn’t hard to listen carefully to the evidence, even though a lot of it was overlapping, repetitive and quite hypnotic. The format was that the prosecution called all their witnesses first. They questioned first, then the defense questioned, then the prosecution questioned again. I tried to leave my mind open and blank, which helped to concentrate on the evidence. Quite a few times I thought ‘oh, I would ask this question now’, but obviously you can’t do that.

The rhythm was that the prosecuting Advocate would ask quite short questions, and the witness would agree ‘correct’ or disagree/provide clarity. The defense solicitor would then do the same. It helped us get to the point of the evidence quickly, and was much easier for us as jurors to understand what was being conveyed than a line of witnesses each giving their statement of what happened from beginning to end. The podium where the questioning took place from was next to the jury box, with the witness opposite, so we all swung our heads back and forth to see/hear what was being said, like a tennis match.

On the third day – Friday – I was feeling rather under the weather and was worried I was going to give everyone in the jury a bad cold, as we were in such close quarters. We heard from one prosecution witness, and then the defendant spoke for their own defense. This was the first time we had heard them speak, which felt quite strange as we had all been in a room with them all week. The jury minder let us know that a very long murder case was going to start on Monday, and 140 jurors had been called in, in order to find 15 who could sit for such a period in the middle of summer. We were dismissed on Friday afternoon and told to keep an open mind, but not worry over the weekend, and not discuss the case with anyone.

On Monday, I was swaying between being glad that such a strange situation was coming to some sort of conclusion, and a growing sense of doom at the judgement we had to make as a group. The speeches by the advocate and the defense solicitor helped set the evidence in context, and prepare us for the task ahead. The judge them addressed us for around an hour, and set out what we were to do, and how we were to weigh up the evidence, as well as what evidence actually is. For example, if we believe one piece of evidence to be unreliable, we were to just set it aside, rather than believing the opposite to be true.

We deliberated and came to a decision. The defendant was found guilty and sentenced to seven years in prison by the judge.
I’m sure it’s clear that as the defendant spoke in their own defense, that as a jury we found their evidence to be unreliable. This is quite difficult to get your head around; I’m at heart a trusting and honest person, and would never lie knowingly, especially under oath in a High Court. It’s hard to believe that others have no qualms about doing this.

It’s been a few days since I was in Court. After the sentencing, we all took our belongings and left. A couple of the jurors were going the same way as me, so we all walked together, leaving people off as they peeled off towards their homes. We knew we were not going to meet again, and there wasn’t any sense of closure, even though the sentencing had taken place. I feel like I still haven’t got any sense of closure. I was maybe hoping that the defendant would stand up and yell ‘OK, I DID IT! AND I LIED AND SAID I DIDN’T, IT’S A FAIR COP!’ to make the whole thing more bearable.

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This entry was posted on July 27, 2012 by in edinburgh.
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