Why You Should Do Jury Service

In the UK, and many other democratic countries, the justice system hinges of the concept of trail by jury. It is not immediately obvious what this has to do with democracy. The answer is that trial by jury is the mechanism whereby the people are accountable to each other rather than to a government appointed judge. The jury provide a safeguard against the possibility of arbitrary or self-serving imprisonment being imposed by the judiciary.

OK, thats very philosophical but, lets face it, getting a jury summons is not exactly a great way to start the day. For some people it may be frightening, confusing or just very inconvenient. They may wonder: Why me? I’m just an ordinary person. The answer is: because you are an ordinary person. Not a judge. Not a lord. Not a policeman. Twelve ordinary people are needed to hear a case and ensure that the defendant gets a fair hearing. Jurors are selected randomly from the electoral register.

The first thought which goes through a lot of peoples heads is Can I get out of this? Although jury service is theoretically compulsory, it is actually fairly easy to get out of doing jury service. What I would ask is that you do not try to get out of doing jury service unless there is a compelling reason why you can’t do it. OK, your boss might get a bit upset about you taking a week or two off work but who cares? Your boss is always upset, right?

The basis for a twelve person jury is that they form a more or less representative cross section of the local community. When I did jury service in Guildford, a few years ago, I could see that this was clearly not the case. The main problem was the almost total absence of working people. They had all found an excuse not to do jury service. Instead the jury room and canteen (which held about 50 people trying three different cases) was populated for the most part by people who were either retired, non-working middle-aged women and a very small number of younger people who seemed to be either students or unemployed. In addition to this it was noticeable that all the the jurors were white, although this may just be because the non-white population of Guildford is quite small.

Before I go any further let me say that I have no complaint against the 11 other members of my jury. They were all reasonable people and we all discussed the case properly and agreed on a sensible and fair verdict. That said, it was not a truly representative jury. It was biased in age (towards the old), in colour (towards the white) and in sex (towards the female).

Some points to consider before you try to get out of doing jury service:

* Doing jury service is not hard work. The hours are typically only 6 hours a day including frequent breaks.
* Most cases only take a few days and it is very rare for cases to unexpectedly overrun your two weeks of jury service.
* If you lose pay because you have to take time off work then the jury expenses will cover this.
* You do not need to worry about intimidation. Jurors are kept separate from defendants and witnesses at all times.
* They will show you a video explaining everything before you start, so you do not need to worry about not knowing what to do.
* Jury service is interesting. You get to see how the court works, hear both sides of a case and discuss it. Most people who do it are glad they did.
* You do not have to swear on the bible if you are not a Christian.
* You do not have to wear a suit.
* Your travel and food costs are paid.

Finally, what I would ask you to consider is how you would feel if you were in the dock. Mistakes can happen and one day you could find yourself accused of something you didn’t do. Your main line of protection is the jury. You want that jury to be a properly representative jury keen to hear your case fairly. If all people are to have confidence in the jury system, and by inference the whole legal system, then the nation’s jurors must reflect all the people. What is a little inconvenience compared to somebody’s right to a fair trial?

(Note: Originally written in 2000, shortly after doing jury service myself)

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May 22, 2000. Migrated, Sensible.

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