Courtroom adventures (part two)

gavel

The jury was complete (read about the selection process in PART ONE). It was now 11.30am. The trial would commence at 2. We were informed by our designated jury minder that as the court was not yet in session, we were free to leave, on the strict condition that we be back by 1.30. As we were now working for the nation of Ireland in the administration of criminal justice, we were entitled to a free lunch (at the taxpayer’s expense) while the case continued. We were handed a menu with three options, should we wish to dine in the jury canteen. I chose the chili beef and rice. A wise decision.

I decided that despite the proximity of the court building to the national museum at Collins’ Barracks, I would remain where I was until the trial began. Most of us were of the same mind. Surreptitiously I sized up my fellow jurors. Obviously there was twelve of us – seven men and five women, varying in age from about twenty to sixty. We smiled politely and nervously at each other, in the manner that strangers stuck in a lift might do. We would be with each other for the duration of the trial.

At 12.45 our minder approached us and brought us to the jury canteen. This canteen is located in the jury exclusion zone – to which only jury members and their minders have access. From this wing of the building the jury can gain access to the jury box of whichever of the twenty two courtrooms in the building has been assigned to its case. Not all trials require a jury however. The District Court is the lowest court, in which minor cases are tried. These tend to be decided by judges rather than a jury. There are five district courtrooms in the building. The Circuit Court is a higher court in which more serious cases are tried. These tend to be civil cases – more serious than those tried in the District Court – but not requiring state involvement.

Owing to the serious nature of the alleged crimes in the case, our trial was to be held in the Criminal Court, which is part of the High Court.

There were several other juries dining when we entered. Each jury is required to dine together. We were brought to our table, and then as a unit went to collect our very pleasing meal.

At 1.30pm our minder escorted us to our jury room – a room with a large round table; twelve seats; two toilets and a plentiful supply of tea, coffee and biscuits. Once seated he told us that he would collect us when we were called. He informed us that nobody was allowed to be present in the room with us – even he could only stand outside and open the door. If he needed to call us, he would knock on the door, but would not enter the room.

At 2pm on the button, there was a knock on the door. We exited the room into the enclosed waiting area outside. He positioned us in a line and told us that we needed to memorise our position as we would need to sit at the same seat each day while in the jury box.

Into the court we trooped. Our names were called by the registrar to which we replied that we were present. The judge (a different one from the jury selection stage) introduced herself and told us that she would be presiding over our case. We were seated to the left hand side of her, at a slightly elevated position. In front of her, seated beside each other,  were the prosecution and defense counsel. She told us that owing to the seriousness of the alleged crimes, that the charges were being tried on behalf of the people of Ireland. The prosecution barrister was trying the case on the nation’s behalf. The defense barrister was defending the client.

Ah yes. The client. He was seated directly opposite us, staring. I was horrified. I don’t know why. It makes absolute sense that the people that would be determining whether he was guilty or not guilty of very serious crimes should be visible to him. Nevertheless it made me rather uncomfortable. This was proper grown up stuff. This was not some Matlock episode. The fate of another human being was in our hands.

He was asked how he plead to the charges. He replied ‘not guilty’. And it started.

Prosecution began by giving the opening statement, during which our responsibilities were laid out for us. The prime one being that despite what we might hear in evidence, the accused had the presumption of innocence until found guilty by us, beyond all reasonable doubt. The outline of the charges being tried were detailed. The judge then dismissed us for the day with a stern warning ringing in our ears not to engage in outside investigation; not to google the case; and not to give specifics of the case to outsiders. We were in fact advised not to talk in detail about the case among ourselves until the deliberation stage.  How we reached our verdict when it came, was to remain top secret – known to nobody, not even the judge.

We reassembled the next day, when the first witness was called.

I am not going to describe the details of the case or any of the specifics. This trial was being held ‘in camera’. Most trials are open to the public. Anybody can walk into a courtroom at any time of the day, and listen in on a case. Owing to the nature of this one, members of the public were barred, and the identities of all parties were to remain secret, unless we reached a guilty verdict, and the victim decided to go public. Only at this point could the press report on the case.

What I can say however is that the whole process was slow. Nobody shouted ‘Objection your honour’. It was far more civilised than that. Nobody screamed ‘You can’t HANDLE the truth’ (although on occasion I wondered what would happen if I made the executive decision to do so.) It plodded along. The wheels of justice turn at a leisurely pace. Junior counsel for both sides had a disconcerting habit of eyeballing us. Junior defense counsel in particular. I considered an attempt at telepathic communication with her, where I yelled ‘Why are you giving me evils? I’m not the one on trial here.’ Then I refocused on the case at hand. Perhaps staring at us was pleasanter than staring at the accused.

We heard from the witnesses. The prosecution witnesses were first, who were then cross-examined by the defense counsel. Next came the defense witnesses, who were cross-examined by the prosecution. So far, so Matlock.

After several days of witness questioning (as well as several periods where we were sent back to our room, while counsel discussed legal issues not meant for our ears), each side gave a closing statement. This was followed by lengthy judge’s instructions. She went through the case in detail for us again, and instructed us to retire to our room, and to try to reach a unanimous verdict for each of the charges – there were several. Several things were explained. If in doubt about the veracity of any evidence, we were obliged to give the benefit of the doubt to the defendant. We were not allowed to speculate. Nothing that came out of the barristers’ mouths was evidence – only the witness comments and the exhibits.

Glossing quickly over the lengthy jury deliberation – which we are barred from describing – we returned to court to inform the judge that we were unable to reach a unanimous verdict. We were then directed to try to reach a majority decision – a 10-2 vote for either guilty or not guilty of all the individual charges.

Further hours were spend analysing the evidence. Solemnly we returned to the court to inform the judge that we were unable to reach a majority decision. As it was a hung jury, a mistrial was declared. We were thanked for our efforts, and excused from jury service for a period of ten years. We were free to go.

It is now up to the DPP whether the case should be re-prosecuted.

Feeling slightly stunned we made our way out, wishing each other well. I may never see any of them again.

These last days have been simultaneously fascinating and stultifyingly dull. I have a far greater understanding of our legal and judicial system; and a huge respect for anyone who serves on a jury. We took our responsibilities seriously – as you would expect when dealing with someone’s future.

Sadly however, I have less faith in the legal and judicial system than I did before this entire experience.

Most stunningly of all, I am actually looking forward to my trek to the wastelands tomorrow. I wonder if they have missed me?

3 thoughts on “Courtroom adventures (part two)

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