Thursday, February 23, 2006

Jury Duty Finished

I finished my jury duty this morning. I don't suppose you could really call it a "duty" since I was not picked for a case and all I had to do was spend an hour or so in the Four Courts for the last 3 mornings and then get sent home by the judge.

There was a jury panel of about 50 people. Note to anyone else who gets called, there are not enough seats, show up 30 minutes early or stand! The panel really was a cross section of the state with male and female, old and young, well-to-do and not so well-to-do. By Tuesday we were all talking and joking in the hallway while waiting to be let into the court room so it wasn't so bad.

On Tuesday and Wednesday there was a delay in all the scheduled cases so the panel got sent home. This morning there was just 1 case left on the schedule but that one did need a jury. The clerk picked the names of jury members out of a wooden box containing all our names. A few people were not there and a few who had been selected were challenged by the solicitors. The challenge process is strange since no explanation is given, the barrister just says they challenge the juror and that's it. The juror is not asked any questions, they don't get to defend their place in the jury, not that they wanted to, all they do is stand aside and wait like the rest of us. The judge does explained that being challenged is not an insult. It seems to be down to just the instinct of the solicitor and who they want or do not want on the jury. Finally they got their 12 jurors selected and those of us who didn't get drawn out were told we could go home. Since there was no case scheduled for tomorrow we were not needed and that ended my duty. I was a little surprised that they did not select substitute jurors, but I guess they know what was needed for the case.

People complain about having to do jury duty and many people try to get out of it when they get called. In fact when the roll was taken on Tuesday about 20 people were not present, and even this morning 5 or 6 names drawn out or the box were not present. Our judge explained to us that as citizens we all have constitutional rights but we also have constitutional responsibilities. Those who skipped their duty now probably face a fine or some other punishment, and I hope none of them ever use the phrase "I know my rights" because they certainly do not know their responsibilities. Personally I did not mind having to do jury duty. I was in the High Court so the cases were not going to be gruesome, boring maybe, but nothing disturbing like what is seen in the Criminal Court from time to time. It did not interfere with my life to any great extend, it just meant I had to catch a bus into town and made me a little late for work. I am actually a little disappointed at not having been selected for a jury.

I do have a couple of observations about the court itself. Firstly the court room was small. Somehow in my mind the "High Court" always seemed like a very grand place where important matters were discussed in historic surroundings. In reality the court room was very modern and was about the size of a small classroom. The 50 members of the jury panel filled it, with people standing. Secondly the building itself is old but well maintained and warm, in fact it was a little too warm. The walls looked like big old blocks of stone but in reality they were plaster board. I guess we did do alot of damage to the Four Courts during the Irish Civil War so the plaster board may be needed in places.

1 comment:

Joe said...

Interesting post.

While I agree that jury duty is a responsibility that all citizens must accept, it should be noted also that the cost of jury duty to some is much greater than others.

I myself am a self employed sole trader so, when I am called, it basically means I don't earn for the period for which I am in court. I wonder how many of those who didn't show up find themselves in a similar position. With increased penalties now for non-attendance, I don't imagine that for most people, it is simply a matter of them ducking responsibility.

Perhaps if the rules were fairer in this regard, with some allowance made for those who are basically being penalised for being good citizens, less people would be inclined seek ways to dodge it.