Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Civic Duty

Last week it was my turn to have a crack at Jury Service. The last time I was selected I wasn't able to go as I was away on holiday for the first day or so and because of that I was excused from turning up.
The time before that I was horrified to see people that could not even follow simple instructions were able to sit in judgement of others. Two initial jury panels were balloted from all those who had turned up. I was in the first group. We were introduced to our court attendant, Cheryl, and we were told we'd be going to Court 10 with the attendant once the trial was ready to proceed. The second group was to go with another attendant, Joanne, to Court 4. Our attendants went to check on whether the courts were ready while we helped ourselves to a cuppa. When they came back the two groups filed off with their respective attendants except once we arrived at court 10 and Cheryl did a head count, there were too many people.
"Okay folks, my name is Cheryl and we are in court number 10. Are you all supposed to be here?" Cheryl was greeted with nods, mutters and blank stares but everyone seemed to think they were in the right place. The only way to resolve this was for us all to stand and then as our name was called to sit again. Two people remained standing.... "I'm sorry but you two are not on my list. What court number were you told to go to folks?"...... "Duh-uummm...er Numba 4"... Oh dear!! If they couldn't manage to get into the right courtroom how the hell should they be expected to concentrate through a whole trial??
I wondered if it was really true... that the people that show up for jury service are the ones that are too stupid to get out of it?! I resolved then and there that I as far as possible I should do my duty and attend Jury Service whenever I was called up!
As it turned out I was not selected for that particular jury and didn't make it onto another panel. On the Tuesday when I arrived we were split into two groups, one to come the following day and the others to show up on Thursday. When I arrived on Thursday they didn't need any more juries for the week so I was sent away again.
This time however I got to see a bit more action!
First off the bus system! I was able to make use of the new expressway so after a short walk down to the closest staion I was able to catch a bus for a short, fifteen minute trip into the city... I couldn't beleive how easy it was! Totally painless!
I was selected for a jury panel and shuffled off to the courtroom for the selection process. The charges were read out to the defendant and they involved several counts of sexual content with a minor. They are really quite graphic when the charges are read and specific deatil was given... cringe... I really didn't want to hear any more detail about this and my stomach churned as my name was called and I made my way to the jury box. Just as I was about to sit down the defendant's lawyer called out "Challenge!". Phew! That meant I wasn't to sit on this particular jury! Amen to that! Once the jury selection was over the rest of us went back to the waiting area where we were eventually excused for the rest of the day.
The bus trip back again impressed me even more than the one in. Buses leaving the city centre for my stop every 15 minutes! A far cry from the bad old days when I first started working in Auckland!
The next day I was selected for another panel but the trial wouldn't go ahead until closer to lunchtime so we were excused for an hour or so under instructions to be back by 11:15.... woohoo! Shopping!!
I had a bit of a wander around Queen St and then went back to the courts and waited... and waited... until about 12:30 when we were told the trial wasn't ready to go yet and we could wander off again as long as we were back by 2:00. I went out again but only long enough to find a bite to eat. Tramping about the inner city wasn't so much fun any more so I went back to the assembly room and filled in time "dancing" my belly dance solo and developing it some more... in my head not for real! Eventually we were called through to the courtroom. As they read out the charges for this case I cringed again... another sexual case, this time with even more counts to plead to, I lost count after 10! Oh God please don't let me get into this jury! As the names came out of the barrel the seats slowly filled up. There weren't so many challenges in this case but I held my breath until the last seat was filled... thankfully mine didn't come out of the barrel at all. It was late in the afternoon by this stage so once again we were excused for the day.
On the Wednesday morning I was selected in another panel. Again the case wasn't ready to start so we were excused for an hour or so. This time I didn't bother leaving the building. It was cold outdoors and I was over the idea of inner city shopping! Eventually we were called through to the court and this time I actually made it into the jury. The charge in this trial was aggravated robbery, committed in 2006. Once we'd selected a foreman the trial began with the first witness. When we broke for lunch I felt as though I needed a spell from the city, the noise and rushing about was doing my head in! I grabbed a bun from a sandwich bar and found my way into a small park behind St Patricks Cathedral.... ah!! that was better, it seemed a lot less stressed there than anywhere else I'd been in the last couple of days!
When it was time to get back to business we were ushered back into the retiring room. There was a bit of discussion over the evidence we'd heard so far but this was to fill in time as yet again it seemed we were waiting and waiting to be called back into the court. The time for the afternoon session came and went as we chatted out the back... waiting!! Then... once we were seated back in the court the judge told us there had been a development, and the nature of it would become clear soon enough. With that the registrar stood and read the charges out again and the defendant plead guilty!! Good Lord!! After all the waiting about and finally getting onto a jury, and more waiting about, the bugger had denied me the chance to see out the trial! No verdict required!! He was soooo guilty and he knew it. I reckon the only reason he changed his plea was in the hope of a lesser sentence, which, by the way won't be decided until the end of June! Gah!
Still, after that we were excused for the rest of the week. They had already selected panels for the remaining trials that week so we were no longer required... So that was the end of that... until the next call up!!

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