Saturday, June 03, 2006

On a jury - stopping, starting and then stopping for good.


The British Justice system may be admired the world over for its effectiveness, but it’ll not be for its efficiency. On a normal day, a NI Crown Court starts sitting at 10.30am, and finishes by 4.30pm, with an hour for lunch 1–2pm.

You’d assume that the time before and after court would be spent in preparation, sorting out the loose ends. You’d be wrong.

Despite starting on time, we spent just over half an hour in court during Wednesday. Up and down those stairs from the jury box to the jury room. A “legal 15 minutes” soon turns into an hour and fifteen minutes.

The judge assured us that he too had spent quite some time alone in his chambers during the morning while the legal teams tried to sort out various issues. We even managed to hear a little evidence before being sent home for the day just after 3pm: there was more legal discussion to be had in our absence.

Nice soup, sandwiches and ice cream at lunchtime.


Unbelievably, we started on time - just after 10.30am. Hearing evidence as the defence cross examined the witness. Now I’m not too familiar with courts, but the quality of questioning was grim. Repeatedly asking the same question in ever more unclear ways, probably confusing the judge and jury, never mind the witness.

We finished early at lunchtime – as the judge had to return to Belfast to pass judgement on other cases. Though we agreed to brave the Downpatrick road works and start half an hour earlier at 10am on Friday morning.

Burger, chips and a lovel slice of apple pie with cream.


We’d all arrived by 10am, sitting waiting to be called down to the court and our uncomfortable seats in the jury box. Quarter past ten. Half ten. Eleven o’clock. Half eleven. There were some legal issues to be resolved, and the judge was retiring to his chambers to make his ruling.

Finally at noon we were called down. Due to an undisclosed legal issue, our jury was dismissed, and a new fresh one will be sworn in on Monday. Nine pages of notes wasted. One side of a story ingested and analysed, with the other half never to be explained. We’ll eventually hear the verdict of the next jury - assuming they make it through to the end of the case.

(No lunch - we all scarpered back to work/golf course.)

So back to court as part of the wider jury panel next week – I wonder will my number come up again before the end of June?

1 comment:

John Self said...

I know what you mean about the quality of cross-examination being grim. One of the golden rules hammered into barristers in advocacy training is "Don't ask too many questions" but most of the ones I've seen in action have forgotten this. There may be an element whereby they want to impress their client that they're doing a thorough job, but as you've pointed out, belabouring a point just (a) dilutes it, (b) annoys everyone at the time being wasted, and (c) makes the jury/judge sympathise with the browbeaten witness. Which surely can't be the intention.