Their Life In Your Hands

First and foremost, I wish everyone a Very Happy New Year and hope you all had an enjoyable, peaceful and safe Christmas.

Second, I must apologise for being absent from here for most of December, in particular in not commenting or joining in your posts, although please be assured I have read them all and enjoyed them. The reasons for my disappearance I hope will be explained in this post.

Back in late October 2015 I was selected for Jury Service. I do not know if the USA has the same selection process as here in England where names are picked at random from the Electoral Register, with notification being sent of dates required and the opportunity to either defer service or request to be excused: both of which require very special circumstances. My dates were the two weeks leading up to the Christmas holiday – a very busy time for all housewives, mothers, grandmothers etc but I had no choice but to attend. This wasn’t because I didn’t want to perform my civic duty, far from it, but it was the timing that was unfortunate, which isn’t a justifiable excuse.

From that moment on, my mind went into melt down. I had plans for what I intended to achieve during November and December, including two painting commissions I wanted to complete, plus my new book I wanted to finish and have ready for publishing, but I couldn’t get myself in gear, so everything was put on hold. Knowing I had to prepare for the guests during the festivities, I needed to plan my attack very carefully. There was all the shopping to do in advance, the home to organise, as well as meals for my husband. I couldn’t concentrate or focus on anything other than what was coming up.

Going to court daily for me meant most days a good hour-and-a-half travelling each way by bus – although the courts pay expenses they will not pay for car-parking – and with all the extra people travelling into Bristol at this time of year for Christmas shopping, as well as the normal commuter traffic, getting there on time was a logistical nightmare. “It’s no different to when you were working full-time, you’ll manage,” was my husband’s comment. True. But I never had to travel into the city every day then. Still, not much I could do about it.

Once my time began, in a perverse way I found the whole experience enjoyable, but a very surreal one being cocooned in a very different environment with 130 strangers thrown together in this situation, not knowing what to expect. Bristol Crown court has 10 courtrooms thus the jury room is busy with activity. And noisy. Once everyone settled in, conversations struck and soon the atmosphere relaxed as we got to know each other and constant chatter ensured while we waited to be summoned to various courts. This is a random process and some people were not selected to sit on a case at all during their whole time on jury summons.

I was selected for a case the first day so there was no time to read and thankfully not much waiting around, and the day after that case ended, I was selected to sit on another jury. It’s fascinating (especially for a novelist – good research material), enlightening, but most of all it is exhausting. Unbelievably so. As a juror you are completely focused on listening, concentrating on each word said, each item of evidence and its implictions, watching, note-taking, thinking, and by the time I got home each evening, I was too tired to eat and fell into bed most evenings by 8 o’clock. And slept soundly; which surprised me as I thought my mind would be racing over each day’s events, each witness heard. No, I was too shattered to give any of it a second thought. And still it goes on.

So there you have it. My life put on hold whilst determining the future life of several others: quite scary in some respects and a huge responsibility as the two weeks have tripped over into 2016. Hopefully for not much longer before normal service resumes here.

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19 responses to “Their Life In Your Hands

  1. I can’t imagine having jury duty before the holidays. Hats off to you for pulling it all
    Off.

  2. I don’t envy you having jury duty pre-Christmas, but I DO envy you getting this call. I have WANTED to see what jury duty was all about for most of my adult life. And only got the postcard in the mail once. Called in right away when I was supposed to, but they didn’t need me. Argghhhh! My husband dreads it when friends say they just got called to jury duty because I go on a tirade about how they should know I’m retired and easy pickings for a jury, blah, blah, blah. Poor guy! Still, it sounds like the timing of your call was not good and I’m glad you survived it!

    • At least I didn’t get the call in the middle of summer, Laurie, I would have been furious to miss being out in the garden in good weather. What I did find out was that courts and juries in England are nothing like they show on TV programmes. Certainly an eye-opener.

  3. While the timing was pretty lousy, I sort of envy you, Kit (although not the travelling bit, that sounds awful). Like Laurie, I’ve wanted to experience jury duty, but never had the call. It must be pretty scary to know you have people’s future in your hands, and tiring to make sure you catch every word, nuance and gesture to make sure you’re working with all the facts, etc.

    Way back, I had the opportunity to sit in at the Old Bailey as part of an interview to be a court reporter. Boy, was that an experience!

    • It’s certainly nerve-racking when you realise the ramifications of your verdict but an experience I’m glad to have had. Learnt a lot too which all makes good research and even a plot has evolved but not sure I will follow that through. I’m only glad I didn’t have to sit on the three large profile cases that have recently ended here. There’s still time yet for you to get the call, Tricia. 🙂

  4. I guess I’ve been lucky as I’ve been called numerous times. Here you have to phone in the night before and if your number is called show up the next morning. And, it’s only one week. Most of the times my number hasn’t been called so it’s just been that I can’t schedule anything for those days. A couple of times it was but at the eleventh hour the case was rescheduled. But… one was a murder trial an education but a horribly emotional one as it was a mother, father and little five year old. They offered us counseling afterward.

    Anything around the holidays is a challenge and the commute, wow. It’s behind you now and sounds like you got through it well. As for catching up, it’s a good time of year to do it. I don’t have your reason for being so far behind but I have a lot of catching up to do too.

    • Sounds a good system, Lavada. Here, although your service is only for two weeks, it can go on for many weeks, even months, depending on the case. Thankfully, I missed the two big murder trials that have been going on here recently, although one of mine was for attempted murder. You certainly need a strong stomach and not be offended by bad language. An eye opener too in many ways. Still involved in one case which hopefully will finish by the end of the week then I can get my home and life back in order and on track. Feel I’ve been away for months instead of a few weeks. 🙂

  5. You did amazing. Now we await for another new book…. 🙂 xx

  6. Well done Kit, I’ve not been called yet but centre of Bristol is not a good place to get to even in bus lanes. Looking forward to book of the experience, despite the responsibility it sounds like a fascinating experience.

    • Thank you, Jane. Feel relieved it’s over. As to the book – a long way down the line as have several in the pipeline already. Still, must get something down before I forget it all. 😉

  7. awesome. I love that you got this chance- not the timing of it but the chance to serve. As a lawyer who does jury trials. I admire and thank you for your service. The system wouldn’t work without the jurors. Ordinary people in ordinary circumstances make the best decision makers. I applaud you for fighting that traffic and parking. And I totally relate to the falling in bed. As a lawyer, that paying attention thing is vital- AND it drains you almost as much as running a marathon. Jillian

    • Jillian, I’ve been amazed by the number of people who have commented to me how envious they are of my doing jury service. I wasn’t looking forward to the experience but am glad I did. Daunting, but a civic duty everyone should do at least once. As to the tiredness – am slowly recovering, that alone came as quite a shock to the system. 🙂

  8. Isn’t it amazing what we can do when we absolutely have to!! Sounds like you did well and hope your holidays went well also. Happy New Year

    • It certainly is. More a case of having to and feeling proud of myself that I manage to achieve it all and still come out smiling. Here’s to a much slower and more relaxed New Year for us all!:)

  9. Valerie J. Patterson

    Kit, jury duty is amazing research that you take an active part in! I’m so glad you looked at it that way. I’ve been called 3 times. While so many people see jury duty as a nuisance or a bother, I am fascinated by the process of selection and then the trials themselves. Hope you’re back in the swing of every day life. Happy 2016 to you!

  10. Sorry Kit, must have missed this post somehow. Having done jury service myself it is a fascinating insight into the British Justice system. What also intrigued me was the varying attitudes of the jurors once sent out to deliberate and come to a verdict. The first case we had involved drugs. One guy said ‘I don’t like drugs, she’s guilty.’ A younger woman said ‘Well she was supplying her friends, that’s not a crime, it’s only criminal if you sell it to strangers.’ There you go, two very different attitudes. Glad you are now a ‘free’ woman again!

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