How the English court system works (?)

The figure of Justice - blindfolded to avoid seeing any truths

The figure of Justice – blindfolded to avoid seeing any untruths – and truths

To save myself from having to write a blog today when all I want to do is sleep – the result of over three weeks at the Edinburgh Fringe – here is a blog about something which happened this week over ten years ago in England.

Someone I know was starting two weeks of Jury Service in a court somewhere in England. He told me:

Day One

None of us got picked today…. There was a lot of waiting around then they sent us all home… I ended up chatting with a right demographic mix, including… a 40-year-old grammar schoolboy self-made Tory-voting string-em-up merchant web designer; a local councillor very lefty with bleeding heart and social conscience (great arguments between those two!); an oldie female retired teacher; a young (22) ‘lad’ carpenter of some type; a young single mum from a council estate (“I dunno nuffink about politix”) and me…. And that was just the smokers!

The fault of the system is this… Most self-employed people don’t want to be there (big loss of earnings – it’s costing me a grand!!!). Most middle class with good jobs don’t want to be there. (They were all the ones moaning they had tried to get out of it )… So you are left with the unemployed, retired and immigrants whose first language definitely ain’t English…. But hey …That’s democracy! or is it?

Day Two

I got picked today…. Going into the court room was awe-inspiring… I had to remind myself this wasn’t telly…. Half my jury could barely read the affirmation. Then it was my turn, so I gave my best performance… and everyone after me then gave it a bit of welly too!

It is a nasty little case – GBH/drugs… Quite complicated too. We were sent home early – 3.30pm – as the two barristers needed to do a bit of thrashing things out. It is by no means cut and dried. My brain hurt at the end of the day.

Day Three

I went to see the trial myself.

A 20 year-old Bengali is accused of cutting the throat of another 20 year-old Bengali, exposing his windpipe. He is accused not of attempted murder but of GBH (Grievous Bodily Harm). His defence is that he was at home all evening. On the evening of the offence, the police came and broke down his door to find him on the phone (he was calling the police because someone was breaking down his door). There was blood on the stairs, the floor, his bedspread and his hand. He said he had cut his finger at college that afternoon.

Forensic DNA tests showed it was, indeed, all his blood and that none of his blood was at the murder scene, nor was any of the victim’s blood on the accused’s clothes. The victim said the accused man was a drug dealer and that he (the victim) hated drugs and drug dealers. Unfortunately for him, the defence knew he had been addicted to crack and heroin, was on methadone and had been convicted of manslaughter.

The prosecution produced two diaries found at the accused’s address which they claimed showed the accused was a drug dealer. Unfortunately, the defence pointed out one of the diaries was not in his handwriting and was partially in Bengali, a language he can neither read or write. The other diary, they contested, was the diary of a drug taker not a dealer – and the accused admitted he took drugs.

While the jury was out, the prosecutor told a detective there to give evidence: “If this guy gets off, it will seriously prejudice the whole case” and “The evidence fitted in better in the other trial”. The accused is related to a criminal Bengali family.

The jury comprised six blacks, one Asian Moslem and five whites. Three of the blacks, strangely, were Nigerians. My friend on the jury told me that one of the black women had arrived 20 minutes late that morning saying, quite unconcerned: “Oh, you could have started without me”.

Day Four

I went to the court again.

The judge gave a rambling colloquial summing up which non-native English speakers would have found unclear. After about two hours (around 4.30pm) the jury gave their verdict – partly because it was a Friday afternoon and, if they had not decided, then they would have had to continue on Monday and some of them were ‘second weekers’ – you are called to Jury Service for two weeks. If the final case runs over the two weeks, then you have to stay until it is concluded.

My friend told me that, when they went into the jury room, there were an initial six for Guilty, five were undecided and one wanted Not Guilty. My friend was the jury foreman. He went round the jury asking initially whether they thought the accused man was guilty. One woman asked: “Which one?” She had not been clear who had been on trial and thought perhaps he was the victim.

I am not going to say whether the jury found the accused man Guilty or Not Guilty.

You can toss your own coin.

1 Comment

Filed under Crime

One response to “How the English court system works (?)

  1. Sound familiar. I have been there. First comment was “He looks shifty and he must be guilty or he would not be on trial…” Jury selection is the point at which guilty or innocent is set in stone.

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