The dreaded jury duty this week… actually, I wasn’t really dreading it, although it’s one of those things you’re supposed to moan about. I was kind of looking forward to it, actually. The whole process of how justice works interests me, and I’d love to see the jury process from the inside, but this is only the second time I’ve been called, and last time I wasn’t selected. So far I haven’t been selected this time either, but there’s another trial starting tomorrow, so there’s still hope.
Just showing up at the court on Monday was interesting, anyway. I don’t remember if they had the whole mega-security thing going last time I was called, but they certainly do now. A beeping archway like at the airport, and a huge x-ray machine for bags to go through, presided over by an unlikely number of security people – I’m sure there were at least six of them just looking after the machine, plus another couple directing people through the archway. The resemblance to an airport ends at the metal detector though, because while an airport is full of helpful signs directing you to where you need to be, Christchurch’s District Court is a maze of corridors with signs that might be useful to people who already know their way round the building, but are meaningless to anyone else. I eventually found my way to the lifts by following two women who were looking equally lost and clutching jury summons letters, and upstairs we found the discreetly labelled door to the jury assembly room.
In the assembly room there’s the usual hush of any waiting room, compounded by the intimidation of being in a court building. A few people have started murmured conversations, but most are reading magazines or newspapers, or staring at the walls attempting not to make eye contact with anyone. It gets even quieter when an official comes in, but all he does is unlock the cabinets for the TVs, cracks a weak joke about the government paying us to watch TV, and leaves again. More potential jurors come in, and as the room fills up the empty seats between people are filled and a hum of conversation starts up, only to be silenced again by the return of the official.
This time he actually turns on the TVs, and we watch a video of that guy from Fair Go telling us what a wonderful thing we’re doing being jurors, and explaining how the jury system works. Once the video finishes, the official tells us exactly the same information the Fair Go guy just did, and then reads the roll. Some people have a LOT of middle names! Our names are on little cards, which he puts in a spinny thing (sorry, my comand of English seems to have disappeared – one of those things they put lottery balls in), and then draws out about 40 names of those of us who are to go into one courtroom, while the remaining people go into the other.
In the courtroom, we sit in the public seats at the back and another official explains the process yet again, and reminds us that if we get challenged by one of the lawyers it’s nothing personal. Then she tells us the accused’s name and reads off a list of witnesses, and asks us to declare if we know any of the people involved. Someone stands up and has a whispered conversation with her and leaves. Then the accused is brought in and stands in the dock. You sense 40 people trying not to stare at him while they wonder what he did. The lawyers are setting up (one has the most enormous briefcase I’ve ever seen – it’s normal briefcase size other than its thickness, which is more like a suitcase), and various officials rush in and out. A final scurry of activity, and then someone says “All rise” (yes, they really do say that!) and the judge comes in.
Another official type (I think he was called the Registrar?) read out the long list of charges, and about half way through the list I realised that the case was one that my employer is indirectly involved in. I wasn’t sure what I should do – we’d been told that if we realised further into the process that we had a connection to the case we should tell an official, but they were all up the other end of the room, so I’d just have to wait and see if I got selected.
Our names were all back in another spinny thing, and as each name was drawn out the person had to walk the long way round the room to the jury box, while the lawyers consulted their lists and called out “challenge” every so often for no discernible reason, at which the poor rejected person had to come back to the back of the room. My worries were sort of alleviated when it turned out another juror worked for one of the companies involved (it was a fraud case, with several large companies having been defrauded). When his name was drawn out he whispered to the official as he walked past her, and she directed him to talk to the judge, after which he was dismissed. Great, so all I’d have to do was go and talk to the scary judge! I think I held my breath until all 12 seats were filled, and the lawyers challenged a *lot* of people – I was starting to wonder what would happen if they ran out of names in the spinny thing.
Luck was on my side, and my name wasn’t drawn, so I didn’t have to talk to the judge – a huge sigh of relief! The selected jurors were told to go off and choose their foreman (non-sexist language hasn’t reached the courtrooms of NZ, it seems), and the rest of us had to wait (I’m not sure exactly why – in case they all hated each other and refused to pick someone, I suppose) until they came back and were officially sworn in. Then we were told we could leave, but that we had to ring the court each evening this week to check whether we had to come back the next day.
So that was the end of my first day of jury service. Monday night’s phone message said we weren’t needed today, but tonight when I rang the message said we were to report to the jury assembly room again tomorrow morning, to go through the whole process again.
I kind of hope I get selected this time. Just as long as I don’t have to go and talk to the judge!