A few years ago, I served on a jury for the first time. It wasn't a pleasant case, which I obviously cannot talk about, but I want to share my experience of the actual selection process.
I'm not sure if our current jury process is "the best", and I know it comes up for discussion every now and then, and I can't offer a real alternative other than make a few minor suggestions below.
For those of you that have never had the opportunity, the process starts with a letter in the post advising that you have been chosen for jury service for a particular period of time, and if you have a valid reason for not serving, to advise within a short period. In previous years when I had received the letter, I had my own business, and could not spare the time, and that was a good enough reason. This time I was in the process of retiring, and I wanted to see how it all worked anyway. I accepted the offer.
Having cleared that hurdle, I then received another letter a short time later telling me to arrive at the Courts at 8am on the date and gather in a particular section of the court building for "mustering". I would be required to make myself available every weekday for two weeks.
There were probably 200-300 people all gathered on the ground floor awaiting further instruction.
A marshall arrived after half an hour and announced that we were required to go through security, and then proceed to an area a few floors above for further instructions.
We all started walking towards security screening, and I noticed a very nervous looking lady beside me . She looked rather distressed, and to calm her down I made conversation with her.
I said "Is this your first time like me?" and to my amazement her reply was "Yes, and they should all be locked up".
I kid you not!
I burst out laughing, much to the chagrine of the marshall and the security person, who gave me an extra check.
I wondered who the poor defendant was going to be who copped this lady on their jury.
Having arrived in the marshalling area upstairs, we were all given a numbered card, and then sat and listened to a person speaking about our responsibilities explaining how the actual empanelling (ie being chosen) process worked. We then watched a video on the court process.
We were all required to attend the courts every week day for a fortnight unless otherwise directed, or until we were chosen for a case by having our number randomly selected. Taking a book was suggested as a way to pass the time. We were told that counselling would be available for anyone who was required to sit on a case and suffered stress or anxiety from evidence presented (particularly in major crimes).
On my third day of attendance, my number was called, and I presented myself to the court, was not "challenged", and subsequently empanelled and took my place in the jury.
I met my fellow jurists for the first time at a morning tea break in the jury room, where we were locked up with a Sheriff stationed outside the door with the key. The jury room was rather small, but comfortable. Refreshments were provided.
We were a mixed lot, from public servants to retirees, from homebodies to business people, from young to old - but thankfully not my lady "friend" from the other day.
I can't talk about our deliberations, but the most interesting part for me was listening to the attitudes of the jury members, which in many instances were totally irrelevant to the evidence being presented.
One older person with a large red nose said "In my day, the problem would have been sorted out the back".
Another said they could not believe the offender could have done this crime as he/she was "such a nice looking and well dressed person".
Another said the defendant's parents looked like a really lovely couple, and had been in court to support their adult child every day, and that should be taken into account.
Our case was not particularly complicated. Evidence was clear, but I have to admit I was disappointed with the debating skills of both the prosecutor's and the defendant's legal teams. They all seemed so young and inexperienced, stumbled over their words a lot, and had difficulty making their points.
I was not expecting a television drama, but was generally disappointed in the quality of the legal teams.
The case lasted a few days, and was very exhausting for all. I have to admit to being very relieved when it was over, and I was glad to escape the closed quarters of the jury room and my fellow colleagues, one of whom took some convincing that hanging was not acceptable in this day and age if the defendant was found guilty! Not quite that bad, but Gawd...................!
Having listened to it all, on later reflection I started wondering how as a group we would have handled a complicated fraud case, or a really nasty murder or similar. I would never classify myself as a particularly clever person (I like a bet, don't I!), but some tax or fraud cases or other major crimes would be really difficult for a lot of people forced into this jury process.
As I said before, I don't have a solution, but I suggest in complicated cases, perhaps there should be a practitioner or at the least someone with relevant experience as part of the jury. I acknowledge that most State jurisdictions don't require a unanimous verdict if a jury is deadlocked these days, and that probably does assist. But I reckon there's got to be some improvements for the more difficult cases.