Last month, I received a letter informing me that I had been randomly selected from the register of electors to serve as a juror at the Criminal Courts in Dublin. The letter came with a handbook explaining some of the process, as well as a list of reasons for disqualification or excuse from service (and the schedule of fines if I was either and still served). I filled in the form confirming that I would attend the summons in mid-June, and stuck the relevant paperwork in the bookcase downstairs where I couldn’t miss it. A few minutes filling out an electronic form for work, and I was set for an initial week of jury duty (and then blocked the next month to deal with any surprises).
On the Wednesday indicated, I hopped on the 46A early in the morning, and took it all the way to the terminal stop at Phoenix Park – 1.5 hours in a rattling bus is maybe not the best way to spend a morning, but it was sunny and I got a chance to see parts of Dublin I’d never seen before. Entered the Criminal Courts just after 0900 for the requested 0915 start, and thus began a day of waiting. Waited for the bus, waited in traffic, waited in a queue for the personnel to show up, waited in a seat for the judge to show up (via VC), waited in another room for my name to be called, waited to be challenged, waited in the juror room for bits of paper, waited for a train home. Lots of waiting.
The Empaneling Process
This is something the booklet doesn’t cover, and probably should.
You show up at the Criminal Courts, and once the staff are ready, you’re let into a room with a bunch of chairs, overhead speakers, and big TVs. Name and juror number are checked off on paper and digitally, you’re told about free biscuits, tea, and coffee, and then the waiting begins. Virgin cable service is hooked up to the TVs, and daytime “morning TV” is as soul-draining as ever. Can’t even concentrate to read a book. Around 1000, we’re told the empaneling should start soon, but the judge is delayed – it’s nearly 1100 before the process starts.
The judge details the jury selection process; we’ll hear case details, such as the charges, the name of the accused, the names of the witnesses. If we know anyone involved, or any of the details of the case, we have to talk to the judge when called to the courtroom – before we’re sworn in – so that we can be excused from that case. She closes the VC link, and we’re left sitting in blessed silence while we wait for the first case to be brought to the courtroom.
The link comes back on, and the clerk of the court (I presume) starts pulling cards from what looks like a bingo hall tumbler – your name and number are read out, and you get up and the jury minders route you up to the courtroom en-masse in a block of 12. Once in the room, your name is called again, and at this point you can indicate that you wish to talk to the judge. The mic pickup is directional enough that this conversation is not clear over the VC link (yes, it’s still up while the 12 are being sworn or dismissed), and occasionally you can hear the judge say to the clerk “dismissed” or “only for this case”. If you have nothing to say to the judge, or there’s no reason to be dismissed, you return to the clerk, and at this point the defense can make a challenge – they get 7 without cause, and any more must be with cause (the prosecution may also challenge) – to have you dismissed from that particular case. If not challenged, you swear an oath on the Bible or make an affirmation, and you’re empaneled. Once a full jury is built, instructions are given about not looking things up online, not talking to people about the trial, and forming an opinion after all of the evidence is presented.
Finally, instructions about selecting a foreman are given – basically, “you’re on your own for how you do it, but you have to have one”.
The first case of the day is for possession of cannabis with intent to sell or provide, and is estimated as taking 2 weeks. I wonder at this point if a judge will excuse you if you have a moral objection to the law, but I suppose that’s a point of a jury trial with random selection – you’re going to get people who disagree with the law being prosecuted. Anyway, I don’t get a chance to ask, as I’m not called for this trial.
The second case starts empaneling at noon – a case of child abuse, 20 charges read against the accused. Media restrictions will apply due to the nature of the trial, and it’s scheduled for one week.
The third case starts empaneling around 1240; the accusation is child neglect. I am called, not challenged, and empaneled. This jury is built shortly after 1300 (running at least 30 minutes late, as 1300 is the lunch break for the courts), and we’re taken to a juror room to decide a foreman. No one seems to want to do it, and it’s the usual looks of “perhaps someone else will do it” – I mentally say “fuck it”, and say I’ll do it. Everyone seems to breathe a sigh of relief. The trial will start on Thursday, and last approximately 5 – 6 days. We’re released to go home.
The 12-headed Hydra
A jury is a 12-headed hydra. If one person wants a bathroom break in the middle of testimony, all of us have to leave. We arrive singly to the building, but once the jury is sat at the dining table (we start there on a morning), we move en-bloc from the dining room to the juror room, from the juror room to the courtroom, back to the juror room (and this can happen frequently, as points of law are challenged and discussed), back to the courtroom, down to the dining room for lunch, and so on. We also leave the building en-bloc, at least as far as the doors to the outside world.
I won’t dive into details of the trial; you can find it by searching the Irish newspapers for a trial regarding the dead of a toddler from methadone toxicity. I did find myself applying more of a “it’s a case” mindset initially, picking out discrepancies in testimony and wishing I could ask questions of witnesses. Also of interest was that 3 or 4 charges were read out in the empaneling process, but only 1 charge was prosecuted in the trial.
The approach of the prosecution is to drip-feed the story – they lay out a story in their opening address, and then attempt to fill it in with witness testimony. You can find yourself wondering things like “why is X not listed as a witness?”, “but what about where P was at that time?”. Answers sometimes come later on, and sometimes they don’t – your job as a juror is to take the evidence given, the charges brought, the law, and decide if the prosecution has proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the charge(s) can be sustained. This leads to a lot of debate in the juror room as people go “but why haven’t we heard about Z?”.
I didn’t see the end of the case – I acquired a dose of COVID-19 on either the Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday – on Saturday I had a scratchy throat, and on Sunday an antigen test showed two solid red lines. The last article I saw on the trial said 10 jurors were thanked, so I guess at least one other person tested positive. It’s possible I don’t have to serve for another 5 years now, but I’d probably do it again – it’s interesting to see how the system works.
Oh, and on points of law – there was a moment where the defense objected about the prosecution asking something, and they started to go “no it isn’t, yes it is, no it isn’t, yes it is, well, shall I ask for a ruling?” and at that point we were kicked out of the courtroom. Sounded like two children arguing..