26 August 2011

An explanation of the mundane.

I alluded to some super-sensitive activity in my last post. I have now been discharged from duty and was not required to perform any further action so I can now come clean to what I was doing. This week I was called up for jury service, (I said it was mundane). It was an interesting experience, one I could not relate on Tuesday night as I was on call still and may have ended up on a jury deciding some poor person’s fate. In fear I would make myself a target for their friends etc. I was not willing to admit that I was doing this until I was sure I was not required.

I have been selected as one of the twelve twice in my life, the details I cannot go into due to an agreement made in court but both times it was an experience. The last time was so complex I almost had accommodation paid for by the courts, alas due to a slight misunderstanding we were not given this opportunity. Now the New Zealand law has changed and this is no longer a possibility as even in deliberation jurors can go home at night. Previously during the trial jurors could go home, not discussing any details with their family of course, but once the defence and prosecution rested they were not allowed to see another living soul until the verdict was decided. That last time we did have a two course meal provided at a very nice restaurant across the road from the courts during deliberation so I did get something for my time. Not being able to talk to the waiter posed a problem, nah, just joking, we were able to discuss non-court related things with others, under court supervision of course. And we even were allowed one glass of wine (paid for by ourselves) if we so wished. For some reason one was the limit, I suppose an inebriated jury might not go down well with the accused. “Yes your honour, hic, we have come to an agreevment, hic. We find the accussed, sorry, accuzed guilfry of drank droving.”

This week we had to turn up to the courthouse at 9:15, by the time we got passed the security check we were standing around waiting at 9:30. I suppose to most other nations security checks are standard in courthouses but here it is a novelty and they really need to do what the airlines do on the tickets. “Jury service is scheduled for 9:15, please turn up 30 minutes before departure to make sure you are through security before takeoff.”

This particular morning they had an unprecedented turn out and there were over a hundred potential jurors for one court case. Out of those they chose only 30, by random ballot, to enter the hollowed courtroom. They need thirty as each lawyer has around eight (I lost count) opportunities to “challenge” a juror, once challenged that juror has to return to the back of the courtroom, plus a juror themselves can challenge on grounds they know the accused or witnesses or is physically/emotionally unable to perform the task required. So they could even require more than the thirty originally chosen, which is why the poor people not in the thirty had to wait in the foyer until all was completed.

The order of the final twelve is also done by random ballot. My name was called out both times, unfortunately (or fortunately) one of the lawyers (I will not say which due to confidentiality) decided I would not be suitable for their chances of winning and I was challenged. Unlike what I saw on US television, in New Zealand the lawyers  are not able to ask questions of a potential juror before challenging, they only have the barest of information (employment, age etc.) to go on, so it is probably done mainly on looks (or perhaps the lawyer in question has read my blogs). They also have only the time it takes the juror to walk from the public gallery to the next vacant seat and sit down to state their challenge. They do not have to give any reason, but once seated they can no longer challenge. I usually speed up near the end, but in this case I was in two minds whether I wanted to be there or not.

I love being on jury, you get to meet eleven new people in an arena that you really do get to know them, you are stuck with them for at least three days. Plus you get to sit and watch a good whodunit show. In fact it was thought of as enough entertainment to make a television series in the UK about it. Does anyone of my readers remember Crown Court? That was when the television viewer was treated as one of the jury and all the story was just witness recounts of the crime. But there are times when the assumed crime is not really one you want to delve into that deeply and this was one of those times for me. So I was in two minds, did I want to meet these eleven people and have a break from my usual work or not have to listen to recounts of activities I would rather not know about? I would love to go into more detail to alleviate your curiosity but I think there is a law against that and I do not want to put forward my opinions on a subject I did not get all the facts about.

It was probably my last chance as once IVRRAC gets to be more well known around Timaru, every lawyer will know my thoughts on criminal rehabilitation and automatically challenge me. I guess if I ever want to be on a jury ever again I need to start training for a very fast 50 metre sprint and wear good quality running shoes to court.


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