Gaynor Madoc Leonard


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Trial by Jury

user image 2013-02-21
By: Gaynor Madoc Leonard
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One of the top news stories today is the collapse of a trial in London simply because the jury did not seem to understand "the basis of trial by jury and simple legal concepts". At first I thought it might be because both sides had not presented the case sufficiently well but, having read some of the questions asked by jurors, it became clear that at least some of them hadn't any idea of how a court works!

In the light of the collapse, all the usual arguments against jury trial are coming out of the woodwork again.

Tempus fugit in a most frightening way and it is now many years since I did my jury duty but it remains the best job I ever had. I received a letter calling me to jury duty in November of one year and was obliged to go to the Old Bailey in the following January. First of all everyone had to negotiate the security arrangements at the door but the security people were cheerful and pleasant. Inside, I suddenly felt rather lonely and overwhelmed despite all the other people who had been called in the same way.

I was called to be a juror on a fraud trial and asked by bewigged and gowned men whether I was willing to give up possibly 6 months of my life to do this. I said that I would do so. There was much discussion regarding someone else who said that they could not do it as they were afraid of losing their job; prosecuting counsel and the judge made it clear that sacking someone from their job in those circumstances was against the law but everyone had the opportunity to back out.

Returning to my own job that day, I explained the situation and my employer (an apoplectic man at times) went through the roof and that could be a frightening experience, believe me. As I loathed him, I dug in my heels and decided there and then I was not going to give in.

The jurors chosen had to return to the court to confirm that they would be taking part; I sent the judge a note about my employer's reaction and said that my boss would likely be sending him a letter by courier at that very moment about it. To be honest, I can't remember whether the letter arrived or not but the judge and prosecuting counsel, after some discussion, very kindly asked me to make the decision about whether I wished to continue. I said that I wouldn't be bullied and that I would carry on.

The jury for the fraud trial ranged from a young lad of about 19 to a cheery pensioner and all ages in between. I recall a London cabbie amongst the twelve. I think it fair to say that we were all reasonably intelligent and understood the basics of what was required.

The trial took place in a modern annexe to the Old Bailey where we had a comfortable room. We organised a kettle, teabags etc. and made ourselves a home from home for the next 6 months. Fortunately, we got along very well and all had a sense of humour. The court Clerk and usher were enormously helpful and kind too.

Obviously, I cannot say anything about what was discussed in the jury room or how we came to our decisions, but watching how a court works and observing how a clever QC can manipulate a hostile witness was a fascinating experience. The case involved an enormous amount of money but, at the very start, we were told that if we could understand a bank statement and balance a cheque book, we would have no problem understanding the prosecution's case. And so it turned out. At the end of the case, the judge said that the prosecution's presentation should serve as a model for other fraud cases and he was very complimentary to us also. At all times, we had been treated with respect. We were also told that we would not need to do jury duty again, having given so much of our time.

By the way, I returned to my job and my boss bided his time; he allowed a few months to pass before giving me notice! It was a relief actually, as I hated the job almost as much as I loathed him.

Shan Morgain
03/16/14 02:16:23PM @shan-morgain:

Gaynor thank you for a very interesting story. I'm glad it went well for you.

Myself I have always been terrified of being called because I am self employed and so many people in my business, both staff and the young people we teach, crucially depend on me. I could manage a day or two but more would wreck my business and all the people involved.

Gaynor Madoc Leonard
02/22/13 08:16:19PM @gaynor-madoc-leonard:

Gillian, I think we all accept that most of us do jobs mainly for the money and if we actually enjoy them that's a bonus! To be frank, I knew almost as soon as I started that job that it was going to end in tears, mainly because of the personality of the company's owner. I liked almost all the other people I worked with there. When I left there, I temped for the first time for years and found I liked the freedom and was far more appreciated than I had been elsewhere.

Sadly, I don't think I would have had the wherewithal (in any sense) to go into law! The prosecuting counsel in the fraud case had a mind like a steel trap. I think that psychiatrist was on to something there though.

Gillian Morgan
02/22/13 06:58:08PM @gillian-morgan:

Hi Gaynor, It's funny how a distance from something can make you re-evaluate your position, like you and your job. I read an article by a psychiatrist who said that people become accustomed to a certain routine but if something breaks the cycle they find it difficult to settle back into it. I worked in the Civil Service at one time. I didn't like anything about it, apart form the money. Sometimes people 'stick it out' it's because there are few suitable alternatives.

Perhaps you should have made law your second career?

Harold Powell
02/21/13 01:07:39PM @harold-powell:

I have never served on a jury. I was chosen for jury pool once on the Federal level but was not selected to hear a case. I found everyone involved courteous and professional.