Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Jury Service - not over yet!

Back and forward to Downpatrick Crown Court another couple of times this week. The jury panel numbers are shrinking - with only about one third of the panel attending on Monday - probably due to holidays.

Don't think anyone has asked to be excused to watch the World Cup yet! Though some with long-held tickets for the cricket at Stormont yesterday were excused.

Monday's jury selection experience was enhanced by the defence solicitors spilling water all over the ancient wooden table they're sitting at. Unlike the judge and the jury panel who have court stewards and jury keepers to look after us, the clumsy solicitors were left to run out to the toilet to get loo roll to mop up the flood.

Yet like a swan gliding down the river, the jury selection went ahead without any hesitation or delay. Don't think the judge even noticed the antics in front of him - he certainly didn't acknowledge them.

I've commented on jury selection before, and the procedure of solicitors shouting "Challenge" (defence) or "Standby" (prosecution - the Crown). On Monday, the solicitors didn't even have their lists of jury details open in front of them. Decisions were being made purely on the basis of appearance (clearly including gender) and not on home address or occupation.

Several juries were sworn in. One defence solicitor used up all 12 challenges (coincidence that they were nearly all objections to women jurors?) ... causing the judge to remind them half way through that although challenges can be made with no reason, they could feel free to justify with a reason if they so wished. They continued to challenge with no stated reason.

Also starting to notice procedural differences between judges. Probably because they don't get to sit and watch each other in action in the court, so a variety of patterns build up.

And despite the seriousness of some of the cases, there's a increasing levity amongst the jury panel - playing the lottery to see if their numbers get picked out of the box. Must be most disconcerting to be the defendant sitting in the dock watching the smiles from the jury panel above.

So with just over a quarter of the jury panel sitting on the hard benches in the gallery this morning, I should stand a fair chance of being called downstairs for appraisal by the beady eyes of the solicitors.

Must dig out that old Rumpole omnibus paperback ...

Update: This morning's defendant pleaded guilty to the charges - so the jury panel was sent home about 11.30am to return on Monday. (I'm off on holiday next week - so it'll be Monday 26th before I'm back in Downpatrick.)

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