I was bloody terrified when I got called up for jury service. So many people told me how jealous they were that I was getting to do it and they’d never been called up, but I was dreading it. Why would I want to spend a minimum of two weeks listening to a potentially horrific crime and then making a decision that would literally change people’s lives? But you don’t have a choice; you either go or you get put in prison, so last year off I popped.
I’m not going to go into the details of the court, trial or verdict that I was part of as it actually was quite traumatic in parts, but here are a few of my top tips to get through your civic duty with calmness and sanity.
1) Take plenty to keep you entertained
I was picked for a trial after two days, but some people were there for a week before getting selected and they were so bored. You can’t leave the building until you are told, so take a book, take your laptop, take your knitting!
2) Wear comfortable clothes
You don’t have to dress really smart; you just have to be presentable. Most days I wore jeans, trainers and took a jumper and big scarf in as my courtroom was absolutely freezing.
3) Make the most of your breaks
Typically you will get two 10 minute breaks and a one hour lunch when your trial is running. I made sure I went outside for almost all of these. Fresh air was always welcome, but do take a walk slightly away from the block so you don’t overhear any conversations that you shouldn’t. I was very careful to not stand near anyone I recognised from within the courtroom.
4) Take your lunch in or buy it outside
The food in the courtroom canteen was absolutely disgusting and a total rip off. You get given an allowance each day to spend on food, so stick to your limit and get your food elsewhere!
5) Don’t be tempted to talk about your case
The judge will make it abundantly clear to you that should you discuss the case you’re on with anyone, you could be arrested for contempt of court. It is very hard to keep it to yourself, especially as everyone will ask you what your case is. Mine was reasonably high profile and I remember seeing it in the Evening Standard on my way home and freaking out that somebody would know I was on the jury!
6) Be prepared
The judge will tell you what is due to be covered the next day when you leave so you can be prepared. If you’re worried you’ll get upset, take tissues, breathe deeply and don’t be afraid to ask your court usher for an adjournment if you would like to leave the courtroom for a while.
7) Pay attention
You will be given a notepad and pen to make notes throughout the trial, so if it helps you, note things down as you go along. If you don’t understand something, ask your court usher to ask the judge for clarification. You do not want to go into deliberation to decide on a verdict and realise you’ve missed a crucial bit of information.
8) Try not to take it home with you
Make plans with friends, enjoy time at home. If you leave everyday overthinking everything you’ve heard, especially if it’s an upsetting case, you won’t do yourself any favours. I had a couple of nights where I couldn’t sleep after hearing some unpleasant things in court, but I found ways of relaxing to ensure that it didn’t eat me up too much.
9) Be patient
There’s a lot to take in and there can be a lot of waiting around. But patience really comes down to when you go into deliberation. You are in a room from 10am – 4.30pm and not allowed to leave all day; that can cause friction. You may have decided on a verdict and not agree with other people, but ultimately you cannot leave that room until you all come to a unanimous decision so you must must must exert patience!
10) Be 100% sure
You do not want to come out of deliberation, give a verdict and see someone set free or sentenced and then regret it. For your own sanity you must be 100% sure that the verdict you are given is right.
It can be scary and intimidating at first, but remember, you’re there with eleven other people who are all in exactly the same position as you. I found jury service a fascinating process and extremely rewarding, but hopefully I won’t get called up again anytime soon!