“Will juror number 1 stand … Please place your hand on the bible and read as follows”. Number 1 is a man in his late ‘60s. Bald and white. A local man, probably retired. Prepared for the worst, he bought a packed lunch to Court. He wears a natty short sleeve shirt, black creased trousers and clunky shoes. “I swear by almighty God that I will faithfully try the Defendant and give a true verdict according to the evidence.”
Number 2, an Asian male in his 30s affirms. The lack of a Quran surprises me.. “I solemnly, sincerely and truly declare and affirm that I will faithfully try the Defendant and give a true verdict according to the evidence.”
The affirmation was bought into law under the behest of the Quakers and Moravians Act of 1838. Quakers and Moravians had a conscientious objection to oaths and so this wording was devised. The wording appeals to me. It seems more personal. Coming in at number 10 I decide to affirm.
When the Quran eventually does come out for numbers 8 and 9, it’s in a pretty green felt bag. The Bible on the other hand appears well, tattered. Daily Mail take note.
We sit down. The clerk reads out the indictment. Count 1, indecent assault of a girl under the age of 13. Count 2, attempted rape of a girl under the age of 13. You can sense a tension creep into the room. I perceive none of us want to be here.
I am a criminal defence lawyer, how can I be a juror? “Oh we get everyone now, including Judges. Nobody gets off these days. You sit down and have a cup of tea.” I somehow picture Jonathon Sumption being here. Perhaps Mr Rivlin too? I look around and am relieved to find neither.
We wait for selection for what seems a countless age in the assembly hall. You’re given a card entitling you to one hot meal, 4 bottles of water and 4 hot drinks per day. Dreading the food, I’m surprised to find that it’s not that bad and is far better than the public canteen.
The waiting and ensuing boredom is of course the worst part of being a juror. We sat in the assembly room for most of the first day. Various clerks come in and a list of names is called out. Some jurors have been in the assembly halls for over a week before their name to be called. I manage to last until 4pm when I am picked off for a Court in the outbuilding.
Off we go and as we’re led into Court I note the reporting restriction under the Defendants name. Sex case or celebrity I think. Just my luck if it’s the former. The Courtroom is almost empty with stifling, soporific air, brown stains on the ceiling and muddy green paint splashed around the walls. Prosecution Counsel is a white middle-aged male, smartly turned out (though not too smart) and with darting eyes behind his spectacles. Defence Counsel, female, blonde, middle-aged and with a slightly desperate smile etched across her face.
The Defendant, a black male in his 30’s with clean, simple clothes sits in the dock with a vacant expression on his face. Apart from the Judge and the clerks nobody else is in Court. After we’re all sworn in, it’s the end of the day and we go home.
Over the next few days the Crown’s case unfolds as follows: Both of the offences are said to have occurred between the ages of 6 and 12. We’re told that two weeks after being interviewed by the police the complainant called the police retracting her claims. We’re told that the Defendant answered no comment to questions in interview and that he submitted a prepared statement denying the offence and that the complaints were all lies. About a month later the complainant provided a 9-page statement to the police retracting her evidence. It then took about another month before the police went round and took a statement themselves.
This all happened about half a year ago, but it hasn’t stopped the CPS from going ahead with the case. The Crown don’t refer to any other significant evidence in their opening. Their case rests and falls on the complainant’s evidence. The Defence opens also. Counsel’s speech tells us the Defendant denies the offence.
The complainant comes to Court to give evidence by a video link. The facility doesn’t work so we all have to go to another court. When eventually we do hear what she has to say, she says she lied about the whole thing. None of the incidents happened as she described in her initial interview with the police. She is confident, she does not hesitate and her evidence that she lied to the Police is consistent. The Judge stops her, asks the jury to leave and we’re sent home for the day.
That’s it I think. How can the Crown go ahead? We’re called in the next day. We’re told that she is going to be treated as a hostile witness and cross-examined by the Crown. The jury are then treated to what I considered the distasteful sight of a senior and able prosecutor challenging the evidence of a sixteen year old girl, who is supposed to have been the victim of sexual abuse, to try and prove a case which she says is a lie. Throughout this ordeal, the complainant is steadfast in her evidence that she had lied to the police when she initially made her complaint.
I’m surprised that the Judge does not throw the case out. It seems to me that too many intangibles are in play and not enough questions answered by the Crown.
We return, the Defendant gives evidence. He is composed, articulate and consistent. Under cross-examination he stands up well. He didn’t answer questions because that was his legal advice at the time. There are no letters which the complainant referred to when she first spoke to the police – no messages, no texts, nothing. If he was so obsessed with her, why the complete absence of any other evidence?
Closing speeches are then made. Summing up is made. The Judge hands the jury a nine-page document on the route to a verdict.
Off we go to deliberate. When I return everyone tells me I’m the foreman. We’re out for 5 hours all in all. Lots of tea, lots of biscuits and a couple of fags. We’re deadlocked, we tell the Judge there is no hope of resolution. He gives the majority direction. We go back in, I stand up: not guilty, not guilty. The complainant is there, she bursts into tears on hearing the verdicts. Most of the jurors perceive them as tears of relief. The Defendants is also crying.
We exit the Court, are taken back into the assembly hall and told we must wait here for further instructions. Granted an early lunch we all sit outside on the grass by the lake. The sun shines on our faces and everyone seems relaxed and happy with the world. Called back in we’re told that we are to be released three days early. I grab my bags, shake hands, one or two kisses on the cheek and then beg my leave.
One or two general observations:-
- Presumption of innocence is an idealistic illusion. Most people assume guilt or believe that there must be something wrong with a Defendant if he/she in the dock. Even more in certain types of case .
- Bad advocates ruin a party’s case. . Stumbling, irrelevant questions and histrionics do not play well with a They feel patronised and see through the charade. Slickness and confidence and a certain flow to the oratory are more important than lawyers tend to think. Presentation is key.
- A jury do not divorce themselves from emotions and feelings when they come to deliberate the evidence. In a case such as this, when there are so many possibilities, most people base their reasoning on “belief” or “feeling”.
- More lawyers should be on juries!
However overall I greatly enjoyed the experience. At times I felt like the very principles of our justice system were being called into play. I felt anger towards the Crown for going against the wishes of the complainant and bringing this case to trial. Standing back, you can see the CPS is in a difficult position. However, post-Rochdale, they are now so scared to drop any case even one which, to me, was as clear cut as this. It seems that the errors of the past are dictating the present decision-making policies of our public institutions rather than as they should be doing, judging each case on its own merits.
In all likelihood I will never see these people again. But I doubt I will forget them. The fact that 12 people can come together from all different facets of life, with all their different prejudices and opinions and still abide by the principles of trying their fellow citizen on the evidence gives you hope for the future.
By James Mullion, Partner