I presented myself at the court at the anointed hour. Even though the Covid restrictions were theoretically lifted by this point, the court service was still observing the protocols. There was social distancing between the seats where the potential jurors assemble. There are six courtrooms in the shiny new Limerick Courthouse which is situated right beside Limerick Prison. On this day, there were two juries being selected. I raised a concerned eyebrow as the jury wrangler (not her official title – she is the woman who had to corral us into our positions and explain what was happening) made a grand announcement. ‘It would be better not to bleed all over the podium’. To my relief she was referring only to a paper cut she had inflicted upon herself. Administration can be bloody.
She outlined the details of this case. I cannot go into too many specifics, but I will say that it was an armed robbery of a place of commerce, where no injuries were inflicted. A crime too serious to be dealt with by the district court, but not serious enough for the High Court (where my earlier case occurred). As in my previous case there were twenty six names called, from which twelve would be selected as jurors (prosecution and defence can eliminate seven candidates for any or no reason). My name was about the sixteenth name called. In the court each juror has to swear an oath to carry out his or her responsibilities seriously. Potential jurors were called in blocks of eight. If anyone had valid reason to excuse themselves they had to announce it to the judge who could dismiss them. I was in the second block of eight. Just before they came to my name, the jury of twelve was complete. I was one of two, not to have been called. Dismissed and deflated, I travelled back down the stairs.
Back in the jury selection room, we watched as counsel for the prosecution asked of any of the chosen twelve wished to excuse themselves. One woman put up her hand. When the judge asked her why, she shrugged and said she didn’t want to. She was dismissed. I was summoned back to the court room where my name had been next on the list. It was four flights of stairs between the assembly room and court. I was breathless as I swore my oath and joined the other eleven.
Now to business. The presiding judge announced that he would call a random name from our group of twelve and ask that individual to be the foreperson. One by one the names were called. All refused. On the fifth attempt I heard my name. This wasn’t my first time at the foreperson rodeo, and I like having access to a microphone. I nodded eagerly. ‘Thank you Mr. Murphy’ said the judge, as he dismissed us for the day and told us to present ourselves at the back gate the next morning when the trial would commence. His warning not to research the case on our own time rang in our ears as we departed. Throughout this whole process, the accused stared at us, not a flicker of emotion on his face,
The following morning, there were only eleven of us. One woman had called in sick overnight. We had a ninety minute wait in the jury assembly room where we had sat the previous day while waiting to be called. Normally we would be in the jury deliberation room outside the courtroom but because of the pandemic, this room was not suitable. The larger assembly room had been repurposed as our deliberation room with plenty more space. We climbed the four flights of stairs to court where we were immediately sent back down while the defence decided whether to accept a jury of eleven rather than twelve. Five minutes later, we were climbing those stairs again. Up and down those stairs we obediently trotted on many more occasions throughout the trial.
The rule were the same as in my previous criminal trial. The burden of proof fell to the prosecution. We were only allowed call a guilty verdict if we believed beyond reasonable doubt that the accused was guilty. The accused had the presumption of innocence. On specific points if in doubt then we had to give him the benefit of the doubt. He had the right to silence. Only the words of the witnesses was evidence (not what the barristers said). I knew the drill. Unusually the eleven of us were spread throughout the room for physical distancing reasons. I sat by the microphone where on that first day, I felt very important when I asked the judge if both prosecution and defence could speak more closely into the microphone. It’s a big room, and with glass barriers everywhere, sound was muffled.
All the witnesses were cross examined on that first day. For lunch I dined on crispy, chili chicken ordered that morning and supplied from a local hostelry, It was mediocre.
The following day were the closing statements from both sides, then the judge’s summation, and his instruction to us on our obligations as jurors. After a lunch of roast chicken on the bone with mashed spuds, vegetables and gravy we went back upstairs to be told it was time to deliberate. We trotted back down the stairs with our pieces of evidence and we began our discussions.
What happens in the jury room is secret. The Garda looking after us gave us strict instruction not to talk about the case while she was present. We were trying to reach a unanimous verdict. This was not possible. The judge then told us to reach a majority verdict (ten versus two normally, but only ten versus one in this instance because of our numbers).
This was also not possible. We were dismissed. What happens next (if anything) is no longer my concern. I have fulfilled my obligation.