Like ovulation and Mahjong, jury duty was one of those things that I kind of thought I knew about, but was also hoping no-one would ask me any specific questions. But then I got picked for jury duty and suddenly I had a lot of questions…and now I have some answers. So I’m no expert but…here’s what I know about jury duty.
Much like fight club, the first rule of jury duty is that you don’t talk about jury duty. It’s illegal to talk about your time as a juror…but…*spoiler alert* I didn’t get to actually sit on a jury. So clearly I won’t be talking about anything to do with any actual cases. This will purely be about the process of what happens when you’re summoned to be juror.
In the beginning
This journey began late last year when I got a letter in the mail telling me that I had been selected for jury duty. This letter set a tone for all future correspondence from Juries Victoria, in which, much like a teenage Chris Riordan, 90% of the correspondence was based on an assumption of rejection.
Basically the letter said ‘You have been chosen for jury duty. Would you like to do jury duty? I mean I totally understand if you don’t want to…it’s cool. Just you know, let us know, there’s no pressure or anything…I really like you as a friend, and maybe we should just leave it at that, in fact, forget I ever asked you, ha ha “Would you like to do jury duty?” I can’t believe I even asked, I mean, you’re so popular, and you’ve got so much going on, you’d never have time for jury duty. Oh God! What was I thinking? Look just forget about it, maybe I’ll get in contact again later on, I mean, if that’s Ok with you, I’ve made a mix-tape with some jury duty related songs, maybe I’ll send that, and call when you’ve had a chance to listen to it.’
I realised that Juries Victoria was pretty much my spirit organisation and so I agreed to take part.
But here’s the thing
I LOVE the idea of jury duty. There was invariably a moment on set when filming a TV commercial, when everyone was getting hysterical because the light wasn’t quite right, or we’d just discovered that the talent was left-handed and this shot was going to have to be reset unless they could learn to cut a tomato with their non-preferred hand, or the client just ‘wasn’t happy’ with how the carpet looked and some wise soul would say ‘Guys, we’re not saving children’s lives here’…and it was true. The reality was that no-one really cared about the lighting of a scene in a commercial. The decisions we were making, while seemingly VERY important at the time, really didn’t have any gravity. No one’s life was going to change as a result of what we did.
So to suddenly be thrust into a situation where what I did really could impact another person’s life…and to be told, we trust you to do this, was really quite amazing. To think that every week people were suddenly scooped out of their normal lives, and asked to partake in a process that dates back over a thousands of years, is actually quite mind blowing.
Plus I have an odd penchant for old men in wigs.
Let’s do this
After a few more letters asking whether I was really sure that I was available, and that they would totally understand if I wasn’t. I finally got my letter telling me when my jury duty was…which was then postponed by a day. But I finally got to head to the Court district of Melbourne and sit in a room with about 50 other people who were there to do their duty. We watched a few videos that told us what to expect: How long the trials usually last (usually two weeks), the hours we would need to be there (roughly 10am to 4.30pm), whether we can talk about the trial on social media (no), really, not even a status update? (no) Come on, what if I put a snapchat filter on so that it makes the defendant look like a rabbit? (still no). But best of all we then got to ask any questions, and someone said that their boss wanted to know if they could work up until 10am, and then again after 4.30pm. To which the reply was ‘No. While you are on jury duty, this is your only work. You should focus all of your attention on your duty as a juror.’ Now I must admit, that even as a public servant my thought had been ‘Well, if I just do a few hours work before I head in to do jury duty, and a few hours when I get home…I should be able to stay on top of my emails!’ I mean in a world where we’re all mortgaged to the hilt and only ever a few missed pay cycles away from defaulting, who in their right mind would think that it was OK to tell an employer that for at least the next two weeks I’ll only be working 10am – 4.30pm?! Well now I had my answer, the Judicial system…that’s who! For a brief second I was given an insight to a far away time when what you did for the betterment of society was given a greater value than the benefit you could give to your employer.
But there was no time to dream of what might have been, soon we were whisked away to the Supreme Court for our first empanelment.
Yes, empanelment. This is the process whereby a jury is chosen, and it meant actually walking into the Supreme Court. Many moons ago I was lucky enough to do a video for the new Mercy Hospital in Heidelberg, and as part of this we filmed at both the old hospital and the new hospital. It was amazing to see how different the two were, and how the new one was so clearly designed to make people feel welcome. There was a lot of natural light, a lot of pleasant colours, soft furnishings and rounded edges. The people designing the Supreme Court were clearly NOT given the same brief. Everything is designed to make you feel that ‘this is serious’. If that feeling you got when you someone says ‘Can I have a quiet word…in private?’ was a building, then the Supreme Court would be it. There is a lot of wood, dark colours and sombre tones. The Barristers, Lawyers and Clerks of the Court are dressed as they are in the movies, and their sense of confidence and purpose, mixed with sense of history and procedure that seemed to emanate from the room itself, left me with a sense of reverence…and a strong sense of gratitude that I was not walking into this place as a defendant.
As we walked into the Court where we were handed a sheet of paper that listed all of the people who were involved in the case (defendants, family members, witnesses, etc). As I waited for everyone to file in and be seated, I read through the names, but none of them were even vaguely familiar. In a town of 4.5 million people, it still felt weird to not know anyone on the list. Then each juror’s number was pulled out of a box and read out and we had to say whether we felt we could be part of the trial. Then the Judge was introduced and he went through the general details of the case (just in case anyone was wondering who was in charge, the Judge literally sits high above everyone else in the Court), and then read through every name on the list and explained each person’s relevance to the case. Again, we were asked if there was any reason why we couldn’t be part of the trial. Then all of us who had indicated that we didn’t feel we could be part of the trial were called before the Judge to explain why, which gave me the chance to say ‘the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.’ and thus check that item off my bucket list. If the Judge accepted your reason your number was removed from the box containing all of the juror numbers…if they didn’t, then your number was returned to box. Then the 13 numbers were drawn out of the box (13 in case one juror became sick there would still be 12), and as number was called the person would walk past the defendant (who had been in the courtroom the whole time) and if the defendant called ‘Challenge’, then those people were rejected from the jury (the first three challenges could be made without giving a reason, but after three a reason had to be given). Then once the 13 had been chosen and approved, they were sworn in…and suddenly 13 people who’s biggest decision of the day had been what to have for breakfast were being led away to a room to prepare to be part of a process that would see them changing the life of at least one person. I think they handled it pretty well.
For the rest of us, that was round one. We would move back to the room where we had started the day, and wait for the next case to be called that required a jury, so that we could start the process over again…albeit with 13 fewer people.
But then about 15 minutes later, we were told that we had all been discharged from duty…our work here was done. I wasn’t going to sit on a jury after all.
I won’t lie, I was a bit disappointed that I wasn’t selected. While the career progression with Jury Duty did seem a tad limited, I did really want to see how the whole system worked. In a world where we blithely take 2 seconds to agree to 64 pages of ‘Terms and Conditions’ just so we can get some software working on our computers, and where any interaction that takes longer than 3 minutes had better result in a coffee. It was strangely re-assuring to see the Court at work.
I actually watched the verdict in the George Pell case live on Facebook, and as Judge Kidd laid out all of his reasoning and all of the considerations, it was apparent that Facebook did not have an emoji for ‘I’m appreciating the exploration of nuance’. It was a bit like when Rob Oakeshott took 17 minutes to tell us if he was going to support Gillard or Abbott in 2010. Nobody wants nuance or balance, they just want an answer that they can either yell about to support or oppose. There is not subtlety, there is no grey, and there sure as hell isn’t the place for reasoned opinions.
So it was somehow reassuring to see the Court in action, albeit briefly. To see the time that was taken to ensure that things were understood, to see the humanity of the people working in the Court, and of course the imposing physicality of the room itself. There was process and there was gravitas, and it was uplifting to know that every day Victorians were an integral part of making it all work.