What It's Really Like To Do Jury Service

What It's Really Like To Do Jury Service

Law & Order, The Good Wife, OJ Simpson vs The People, Suits: legal dramas have dominated our screens for decades. But despite a third of all UK residents being called up for jury service in their lifetime, few of us really know what happens inside a court of law. So what’s it really like to spend two weeks on the jury? SL’s Lifestyle Editor reveals the nine things she learned…

1. You Have To Do It

In short, if you’ve been selected for jury serviced, you have to say yes. This might mean an awkward conversation with your employer or clients, but legally your boss has to allow you to do it (they can be taken to an employment tribunal if they refuse).

Each juror will have the opportunity to delay their service once by up to 12 months if there’s a valid excuse (a booked holiday or operation, for example). But beware! You can be fined up to £1,000 if you don’t send back your summons form or fail to turn up for service.

2. You Won’t Be Out Of Pocket

You won’t get paid for taking part, however there are measures in place to make sure that you won’t lose any earnings. Businesses can choose whether or not to pay you while you’re off work, although most will.

If you’re self-employed, or your boss won’t pay your wages during your absence, you’ll be able to claim loss of earnings – you’ll be reimbursed at the end of the process, as long as you supply the previous year’s tax form.

Jurors are also able to claim for parking, childcare and travel, and receive a food and drink allowance of £5.71 per person per day.

3. Expect It To Last Around Two Weeks

The average length of service is ten working days. During this time, you may be assigned to more than one case – for example if one trial is wrapped up in three days, you’ll return for reselection on the fourth day.

High-profile cases – such as a murder or complex fraud case – can last weeks or months. You’ll be informed at the start of the trial if it’s expected to run over.

4. This Is What Happens On Day One

It’ll be a Monday morning. You’ll be called in at around 10am along with dozens of other people – you’ll all be security checked, briefed and seated in the juror’s room (warning: you’ll spend a lot of time here). When the court is ready to form a jury, 15 randomly-selected people will be led into the courtroom. Here, the defendant and witness names will be read out. Any potential juror who knows those names or the person before them will be dismissed.

Next, the court clerk will select 12 out of the 15 potential jurors at random to sit on the jury. Now, the prosecution and defence councils have the opportunity to challenge the jury (although they’ll be picked from a random sample from anyone aged 18-70 on the electoral register, a council could claim that the jury may be biased if it is heavily male or female, for example).

Once each of these 12 has been sworn in, an outline of the case will be read out. Keep in mind that you might not be selected first time around. If that’s the case, you’ll be kept on hold for the next trial selection.

5. There Will Be Moments Of Mind-Numbing Boredom

A piece of advice – invest in a good book. On the first day in particular, there’ll be a lot of awkward waiting around in silence. As the trial goes on, you’ll probably start chatting more and cliques will form, but that book will still come in handy.

While you’re allowed to leave the building for lunchbreaks, sessions in court only tend to last around an hour at a time before everyone retires for a break. In short, you’ll spend a lot of time in the juror’s room. Come prepared.

6. What Happens In Court, Stays In Court

The moment you tell people you’ve been selected, expect colleagues you’ve never spoken with to suddenly start grilling you over the communal kettle. Yes – friends, family and clients will all want to know every gory detail. Don’t be tempted! You’re not allowed to discuss the trial with anyone until it’s finished, except with other jury members in the deliberation room.

Even after the trial you mustn’t talk about what happened in the deliberation room, even with family members. Likewise, don’t even think about putting anything on social media (even after the trial’s over), or you could end up in prison yourself for contempt of court.

7. It’s High Pressured

Once in the courtroom, you’ll only hear evidence once. While you’ll be given notebooks (which are kept locked away whenever you’re not in court or the deliberation room) to jot things down, one of the reasons there are so many breaks is because you need to feel fresh in order to retain weeks and days’-worth of facts. Trust me, when you return home each day, you’ll feel exhausted (this might also be because you’ve been contained in a windowless, airless room for hours on end).

But the real pressure will ramp up once you’re in the deliberation room. In here, you’ll see those people you’ve been hanging out with all week’s true personalities come to life, prejudices and all. If your group’s unable to reach a unanimous decision, members of the jury will pile on the force in order to change the minority group’s minds. And if a stalemate is reached, prepare to witness some of the most heightened peer-pressure you’ve ever experienced. If you truly believe in your stance, then stand your ground. If a jury cannot reach a unanimous decision, the case will go to retrial.

8. It Can Be Traumatic

You might hear some disturbing details, particularly if you’ve been assigned a rape or murder case. Despite this, make sure to remain objective and don’t let any sympathies you might have sway you away from the facts. Anyone particularly affected by a trial can speak to court staff for advice, or you can contact the Samaritans.

Regardless of whether you’ve delivered a guilty or not-guilty outcome, you’ll still have the eyes of the defendant, witnesses and their families on you as your chosen juror delivers the verdict. Whether you’re met with sadness, anger or relief, it’s a moment that weighs heavy.

9. You’ll Feel Great Afterwards

When your service period is over, you’ll probably feel a strange mix of relief and pride. For all the waiting around, jury service is really interesting – you’ll learn a lot about the justice system and about yourself. And remember that whatever the outcome, you’ll have fulfilled your public duty and have done something extremely worthwhile.

For more details about jury service in the UK, visit Gov.uk

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