28 July 2014

Call of Duty. Jury duty, that is.

It came as a surprise when I received my summons. After all, a number of friends have been in New Zealand longer than I have, and yet they've never been summoned! I would just like to share my experience in case you get your summons and wonder what it is about. While the website explaining the jury process is quite comprehensive, I do not see much in the way of narrating personal experiences, save for anecdotes.  So here's mine.

To be honest I was excited to do jury duty because it's something I've never done before. But people who I asked about it said that those who do jury duty are usually the unemployed because it's extra income for them. However, that did not deter me from asking our office if I can perform jury duty and our HR Manager told me to go for it and do our bit for the country!

While only 12 are needed, the court summons more than twice the number. In the court room, the charges are announced and how long the trial will take. Names are then drawn via ballot. If your name is called you stand up and proceed to the jury chairs. At this stage the lawyers can challenge you. No, there'll be no fistfights and such. They'll just say 'challenge' and that's the end of your duty. You go back to the audience chamber. There's quite a bit of suspense as each name is called and you wonder if they will be challenged or not. Once the person sits on a jury chair, he/she can no longer be challenged.

A couple of people from my group actually approached the judge and then, after a brief discussion, they returned to their seat. And that's that. I guess they asked to be excused, which can be granted if there is a perceived conflict of interest based on the trial that was read earlier.

 With my rotten luck at raffles and anything involving winning anything, I just sat there and expected to be back at work by lunchtime. But it seems the Fates had something else in mind as I got called and was unchallenged.

The day of a juror is spent mostly sitting at the courtroom and listening and pondering on the cross examination. I guess you can react to the drama unfolding before your eyes but the lawyers would keep looking your way, perhaps gauging if the proceeding is going for or against them so I tried to keep a passive 'what are you looking at?' face. I'm sure most of my fellow jurors were doing the same. Speaking of which, my companions were of varied backgrounds and everyone held full-time jobs, so that debunks the unemployed impression! We had some pretty good discussions between breaks and everyone got along quite well. We're a lucky bunch, said one juror, because she had done duty years ago and they could not agree with one another and was quite a mess, as I can imagine.

Note that you have to bring your own lunch (or eat out). Coffee, tea, and biscuits are provided for morning and afternoon tea.

At the end of the cross examinations, we were told to stay in the jury room and deliberate on the counts. We had to be unanimous on our guilty or not guilty verdict. I actually thought we were going to be holed up in a hotel room somewhere, never leaving until we reach a decision and getting food to order like they do in the movies. But it did not work out that way. We stayed in the room where we adjourn, with our phones confiscated for the day. Lunch was provided though, so that's one less thing to worry about. And we went home in the evening.

After reading the verdict on the final day, we all went to a local pub for drinks and chitchat, then it was back to normalcy. We had a great run. Wish I asked if they have Twitter accounts.

My overall experience: certainly thought-provoking and insightful. I recommend anyone who receive their summons to give it a go (provided your work schedule permits you!)

There are only 2 downsides I can think of:
- the jury seats are not comfy. After a couple of hours, we tend to squirm around. It was a topic in a couple of our tea breaks. We think it is designed to prevent the jurors from falling asleep.  Good thing there's the lunch break, and morning and afternoon tea.  It breaks up the day's session quite nicely.
- You can't tell anyone about the case, not even your significant other. You also should not read write-ups about it, lest it influences your decision-making. You should base it on the evidence supplied in court. It was a bit challenging not to disclose to friends what the case is about, but I guess it's for the best.

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