The next time an RLC member was required to do jury service was in the spring of 2000 the beginning of April, to be exact. This time, the victim was ordered to report to Manchester's other Crown Court; the one at Minshull Street, which is a shorter walk from Piccadilly station.
Perhaps the system had been changed in the intervening three years, but the potential juror's impression was that they seemed more organized at Minshull Street than they were at the main Crown Court on the other side of the city centre three years ago.
Day One -- the first Monday of the month: No problems with finding the place and I was wise enough to put all loose change and keys in the side pocket of my bag so I could just walk straight through the metal detector at the trades-persons' entrance round the back. Criminals and spectators get to go in via the front door, apparently.
The orientation session was very much like the one described for the 1997 jury service: a few words of instruction and the video presentation of what you have to do and what will happen is you don't follow the rules.
Everyone was armed with a swipe card for buying food and drink. Jurors were granted a daily allowance of £2.10, which increased to £4.25 if they had to attend for the afternoon session. After buying something, the juror presented the swipe card to the cashier and should the allowance be exceeded, the difference must be handed over in cash! And any unused allowance is added to the amount paid for travel and/or loss of earnings at the end of the spell of jury service.
Actually called out of the throng to be considered twice on my first day! The first time, the group was relieved of all mobile phones and marched off by an usher to a holding area. We hung about there for ages, then we were marched back to the jury pool room. The case, apparently, had been rescheduled for the next day.
Sat about reading, not watching TV (which they didn't have at the other Crown Court) and chatting to the other inmates until the afternoon, when I was called again. I actually made it into the court room this time, but 15 are called and only 12 are chosen; and I was one of the surplus 3. So an early finish at about 3:20 p.m.
Not required tomorrow when I phoned the Jurors Recorded Information Service. Spent part of the evening reading by candlelight as the power went off from 8:38 pm. to 9:50 p.m.
Day Three - Wednesday: Expecting to waste a day hanging around in the jury room after a day off, and an argument about claiming loss of earnings, but no! I was able to provide a colour copy of a statement of income from the previous year and it was accepted. And not long afterwards, my name was called and I ended up on a jury.
We had to try a case involving two blokes, who stole a vehicle and went on a minor crime spree, which involved robbery with violence of an old lady on her doorstep and using the stolen van as a getaway vehicle. After that, there was an extended attempt to sell a diamond ring from the old lady's handbag. The judge reckoned that the case would run until Friday.
No great fuss about affirming the oath and the usher didn't seem to think I should have given notice of this intention the moment I stepped through the front door. Everybody else on the jury seemed happy enough to pretend to be a Christian and swear on the Bible.
The courtroom itself was quite spacious and fairly modern. The prisoners were confined in a dock area at the back, the witnesses performed on the judge's right and the jury were lined up in a double row against the wall on his left. The lawyers, lost in the broad expanses of the floor of the court, had vast amounts of paper crammed into bulging, large-format ring binders. And paper and pencils were available in the jury box when we arrived.
We finished the day one juror short as a bloke realized that he knew some of the coppers from one of the police stations involved in the investigation.
Day Four - Thursday: The usual leisurely start to the day for the jurors. No doubt everyone else involved had been beavering away behind the scenes for a fair time. On Day 2 of the trial, we lost one of the defendants. He'd pleaded guilty to everything but one charge, and that was dismissed as 'no case to answer'. I suddenly found that I was sitting in pole position nearest the judge and I was required to pronounce the bloke 'not guilty' on the orders of the judge.
After that, the trial went on with lots of delays, when the jury were required to disappear and hang about in a nearby small room. The prosecuting counsel had a habit of smiling at the jury for no apparent reason, his opponent made no real impression and the defendant seemed quite at ease when he went into the witness box to deliver what was obviously a load of old baloney and red herrings.
The day's business finished after the closing address from the defence counsel. The judge's summing up, the jury's deliberations, sentence and execution would all come tomorrow, we expected.
Day Five - Friday: After hearing from the judge, and discovering that 'beyond a reasonable doubt' had been abolished and we had to be certain of what we decided, the jury retired.
We ended up in a large, high-ceilinged room with a large table constructed out of smaller ones. We were armed with all sorts of evidence in plastic bags, including lots of dosh stained with purple fingerprint powder. The first order of business was letting the usher have orders for lunch from those who hadn't brought sandwiches and drinks. Then the debating began.
We must have spent about 4 hours talking round and round in circles, with the people who thought the bloke was guilty becoming more certain that they were right and the 'don't knows' running out of reasons to avoid committing themselves one way or the other. Although, at one point, people were asking if the judge would take a 10-1 majority. They received the official advice that the judge wouldn't even think about accepting less than unanimity until we'd spent a full day discussing the case and 5 p.m. was looming.
So, eventually, it was thumbs down for the defendant on all 3 counts. But with sentencing postponed for a couple of weeks, we didn't get to find out if he got the death penalty or a slap on the wrist.
Day Eight - Wednesday: No Days Six or Seven; the jurors' hotline missed out my number on both Saturday and Monday. To my surprise, I found myself on another jury. They don't hang around at Minshull Street!
An expedition into another part of the building left the prospective jury parked in one of several holding areas behind the scenes after a twisting march. The impression gained is that only the staff can hope to find their way around. Anyone else would need a map and a GPS device.
The courtroom turned out to be of an older and much more compact design: high ceiling, fancy woodwork and hard, wooden benches to discourage the jurors from dozing off. There was a pit for lawyers and solicitors, and everyone else looked down on them.
This one was a case of minor burglary rather than an axe murder or a bank robbery. As with the previous case, the defendant had been careless enough as to leave behind a fingerprint. The prosecutor was a mature bloke who looked very confident that the jury would deliver his way. The defence counsel looked like someone who was still digging himself in and taking whatever scraps he was given.
Day Nine - Thursday: We had a very late start to our case and we reached our verdict over the lunch break guilty as hell and everyone surprised that the kid had bothered to have his day in court. Again, the judge didn't hand down a verdict. He was delaying it for reports, but he did warn the battered young criminal that he faced a spell inside.
And so, that was it: finito Benito, as far as my jury service was concerned.
In conclusion, I can report that both cases seemed to be pretty much lost causes for the defendants right from the start and only the legal profession gained any real benefit from them. Fingerprint evidence was telling in both cases, and both defendents tried (unsuccessfully) to put the blame on another criminal mastermind. And both defence counsel asked the jury to think what they'd be doing to their client by finding him guilty. So it looks like accusing the jury of ruining the life of the client is the last resort of someone who knows he's on the losing side.