Monday, September 07, 2009

Jury duty

Last week I was called upon to do my civic duty and go on jury service. I was in the Sheriff Court for the Sheriffdom of Glasgow and Strathkelvin, which deals with intermediate offences (and also some civil cases) - in fact prior to going into court (and in fact reading the wikipedia article I just linked to) I had no real idea of how the Scottish court system worked. One thing that the Sheriff court didn't have was a man with a star-shaped badge, a cowboy hat and leather chaps.

Having been cited to jury duty for Monday I didn't actually have to go into court until the Wednesday (I just had a number to call every evening to see if I was needed the next day). Glasgow Sheriff Court building was a big Orwellian block - quite cool architecturally, but very much like some kind of Ministry of Truth. On getting in there and going through security I discovered a quite ominous sign in the toilets stating that you needed to be careful when taking a paper towel as syringes have been found next to them before. After that I went up to my assigned courtroom where I discovered loads of people milling about - these turned out to all be jurors. There were some delays, so we all waited around outside the until we were lead into the courtroom, which was one of the smaller ones in the court. There were around sixty of us (which surprised me as I didn't expect anywhere near that number) and to fit into the courtroom some of the jurors had to sit in the dock and in the jury box (I got to sit in the jury box). We were then given a talk from the Clerk of Court about the court (apparently the largest and busiest court in Europe - not necessarily a claim to be proud of!), the role of the jury, and what would happen. Essentially what happens is the Sheriff, Prosecutor and Defence come in, followed by the defendant, the defendant give his plea (generally not guilty) and then the jury gets balloted from the group of people there. The balloting is very low-tech consisting of everyone's names getting put into a bowl, then 15 being picked out by the clerk and the jurors walking into the jury box. There was a case straight away once we'd been processed, so we got to see this in action. There was frisson of excitement as the names got read out - kind of like a weird bingo - but my number and name didn't appear (although the number before mine did).

After the jury was picked they had to be sworn in. When we'd been talked to by the clerk earlier he'd asked if we were picked whether we'd want to affirm rather than take the regular oath. Basically the standard thing is to take an oath swearing to God (I assume a Christian God, but maybe they're open to your own choice of divine being!) that you'll tell the truth, whereas the affirmation is a non-religious version. From those chosen jurors only two out of the fifteen chose to affirm. The oathers got to all take the oath together which required them standing, raising their right hands, and then saying "I do" after the oath had been read out by the clerk. The juror's affirming had to both do so individually and had to recite the whole thing, which was something of a tongue twister. I think it's about time that the oath is non-religious, i.e. doesn't require you to swear on any particular deity, by default.

After this all of us un-used jurors were asked to leave (although we could have stayed, as all the courts are open to the public [for nosey people I expect]), but return to another court after lunch in case we were needed as spares. Turning up at the court later on there were already about another sixty potential jurors waiting outside, so us extras were asked to leave and call back later. That was actually it for my time on jury duty as I never got called back again. I did get to sit in the jury box briefly, but never got to dole out justice to the criminal classes of Glasgow. At least this didn't happen.