I arrived home from work one evening in early March, to find in my postbox a brown envelope. Contained within it was a summons from the Court Service of Ireland, informing me that I was required to attend a jury selection process at the Criminal Court of Justice on an appointed date. How thrilling I thought to myself. I’ve seen Matlock. This would be exciting.
Candidates for jury service are randomly selected from the voting register. This was the third time I had been summonsed, but would be my first time available. Around twenty years ago I had been called in Limerick. Thanks to the fact I was on holiday in France on the requested date – evidence of which I had to provide – I was excused. About ten years ago I was called again – living in the Netherlands excused me on this occasion.
Attendance is mandatory. Certain professions – barristers; gardai; politicians – are excluded. Other professions are allowed to attend if they so wish, but are automatically excused upon request – teachers; nurses; doctors; dentists; students, retired people and the self-employed. You are not paid for jury service but your employer is obliged to pay your standard wage while you are in service.
On the specified date I arrived at the Central Criminal Court on Parkgate Street at the appointed hour. This is a modern, multi-storey building, opened eight years ago, to ease the strain on the Four Courts which is located on the river quays close by. My summons card proffered, I passed through the metal detector, while my bag passed through the X-ray machine and I was directed to the jury selection area to the right. I was instructed to take a seat in the waiting room, along with approximately three hundred other people. I was expecting to be sent home in a few hours. Just because you have been called does not mean that you will be chosen. On any given day, if you have not been selected by midday you are sent home and required to return each day, until Thursday in case you are needed for another trial.
At 10.15am, a court registrar appeared and made her way to the microphone. She proceeded to do a roll call of the attendees that day. She called our names, along with the individual identifier number on the green summons. The call was done in a number sequence. After this lengthy process she returned to the start of the list and called the names of people who had not replied to her original call-out.
Upon completion she told us that the initial case for the day was ‘The director of public prosecutions (on behalf of the people of Ireland) versus ***** *******.’ She then gave details of the case. For reasons I will explain later (perhaps on the second blog post I write about this experience), I am not allowed to give specifics about it. A brief, non-detailed description is allowed.
This case was concerned with a series of alleged rapes and sexual assaults over a five year period, on an underage person. My heart sank. That sounded horrific. I quickly pulled myself together. There were three hundred people in the room. I surely would not be selected. She announced that if our names and numbers were called, then we were to present ourselves to the Jury Minders (employed by the court service) at the entrance.
A jury is a random selection of twelve people. However twenty six names would be called. We were informed that both prosecution and defense each had the right to automatically challenge seven potential jurors when we arrived in court. They were not required to give a reason. If we were called and challenged, we were not to take it personally and to make our way back to jury selection room (accompanied by the jury minder) in case we were needed for another trial.
The very first name called was mine. Oh hell’s bells. I had no wish to be involved in this type of trial. I was reassured by the fact that I still had a less than fifty percent chance of selection.
When all twenty six names had been called we were whisked to a courtroom. It was packed with lawyers and members of the public.
The bewigged judge sitting at the raised bench told us that if our name was called then we were to approach the registrar at the front of the room, to take the bible and to swear the juror’s oath. If we were to be challenged by the prosecution or the defense, they simply had to call ‘Challenge’ before we reached the registrar, at which point we simply needed to turn around and exit the courtroom.
The first name called was my own. My heart started pounding. As if in slow motion I approached the registrar, all the while willing one of the sides to call ‘challenge’. The bible was in my hand. I had to repeat the juror’s oath. I made my way to the jury box and took a seat.
One by one each potential juror was called – many were challenged, most of whom had a look of relief on their faces. In the space of what must have been ten minutes, we were twelve.
We were thanked and instructed to follow our minder. The trial would begin at 2pm.
Lo and behold; I was on the jury for a criminal trial.