My munching time has been severely curtailed of late due to a six week stint as a jury member at Southwark Crown Court. But fear not, the reviews shall return with fearsome frequency now that I’m at liberty and the holiday season has begun.
In the meantime I thought a little taste of what it is to be a juror might be of use to those who haven’t yet been called to do their citizenly duty. Obviously I’ll not go into the details of what I was involved in there – that would be against the law. But I will say that being a juror is a uniquely rewarding experience in that it is one of the few times in your life where you’ll be asked to think and debate for altruistic purposes and with the certain knowledge that what you say will be listened to seriously and have an actual real-life outcome. Don’t avoid it, do it.
Message over, on with the faff.
What the hell (you may be asking yourself) is HMS Belfast doing as the header image for jury service. Well, you may have seen the Royal Navy’s finest on your way over London Bridge from time to time and thought, ‘Oh, I really must go and see that outpost of the Imperial War Museum that once fired the opening round of the pre-D-Day landings barrage.’ Or you may be thinking, ‘Wow that’s a bloody great warship in the Thames, what the shit’s that doing there?’
It’s guarding Southwark Crown Court.
That’s right, Her Maj takes justice seriously and just to show how seriously she takes it she’s parked twelve 6″ guns in four triple turrets outside SCC to discourage miscreants and show villains that she means business.
Day one of jury service is like the first day of school. Everyone seems to know what they’re doing except for you. Those who’ve been doing service for a week or more will flick elastic bands at you or flush your head down the toilet (if they can get it to work, just think of the horrific consequences should you have the misfortune to be in the 50% of cubicles whose flush does not work). Security guards will tut as you set off the scanner once again with an inappropriately secreted personal item. Don’t worry, by day three you’ll know the rules and be able to reel off the security code for the door without even looking at a series of numbers ballpointed on the palm of your hand. But how do you achieve this level of wisdom before you turn up?
Prepare for a queue
Monday queues are the worst as the fresh intake of jurors has yet to be separated into sheep (switched on, publicly-minded servants of their fellow citizens) and goats (the workshy, the I’m too important to take two weeks away and the genuinely unable to do JS). So be prepared for a queue out the door and the possibility of it raining while you’re waiting.
Bring a book
If you’ve got this far I’m assuming you can read so yes, bring a book. You may have to wait all day to be called. And then get sent home without being called. Take a good book of your choice. They have books in SCC but you don’t want to read them. You want to read yours. Ah, you’re thinking, but I can read a book (or similar) on my phone/pad/laptop. You can but a book won’t let you down. SCC is set up for technology from the 1980s. So bring a book. Or a ZX81. Also, having your own book will make you look clever and impress your potential fellow jurors.*
You will already have filled in several forms before arriving at court. Be prepared for more if you care about claiming expenses. Do not talk about this process, your fellow jurors will already be bored by it themselves.
Instructions will be delivered via a prehistoric DVD attached to a telly stuck on the ceiling or over a tannoy. Or not at all. It’s your job to guess which ones are important to you without revealing any uncertainty. Uncertain jurors, like lame zebra, are the first to be predated upon by the strong.
All court employees are professional comedians. Remember, they’ve been doing this act for years and they know it’s funny. So make sure you laugh at the appropriate moments.
Or ‘food’. It may be a chore to go outside but it is definitely worth your while.
See Food. With bells on.
The Southwark Crown Court Experience
So let’s assume you’ve been picked and you’re now a pro-juror, what tips do I have?
You and your fellow eleven citizens will spend a lot of time in one another’s company. More than you will have spent with anyone except your partner, your kids, your ailingest relative or even many of your work colleagues. And certainly more than you’ve spent with someone you actually wanted to spend time with. Often in a tiny room. These people won’t be your friends but they will be your team so do the nice with them even if they really get on your tits. It might turn out that they’re as worth knowing as you are, and even genuinely good people.
DO NOT, unless you really have the most severe hangover/cold/agoraphobia going, lunch in SCC. Go somewhere better instead.
Jury service is an opportunity to see things you’ve never got round to seeing. As well as the behemoth of Belfast you have the Old Operating Theatre, The London Fashion & Textile Museum, Guy’s Hospital Chapel, even Tower Bridge within walking distance. And massive amounts of good things should you be fortunate enough to get a long lunch or late start.
But not the Shard please. And definitely not the ‘London Bridge Experience’. Please god, those poor tourists. And failed actors.
Lawyers & judges
If you thought the court staff were funny wait till you hear the lawyers! They have better jokes because they’re paid more. And the judge has the best jokes of all because he can lock you up if you don’t chuckle. Or if you chuckle inappropriately. So play it safe when the judge cracks a joke and just smile winningly.
Okay, so that’s a start but I may add more as things occur to me. Jury service is like that. One second you’re lining up to pot a tricky black to snatch the frame, the next your mind is filled with the contents of Jury Bundle 141 (which involves a particularly opaque series of financial transactions) and you’ve gone in off and the beers are on you. Yes, to paraphrase Stephen Dedelus on Bloomsday, jury service is a nightmare from which I’m trying to awake.
*If you’ve forgotten your book I can recommend the excellent Riverside Bookshop in Hay’s Galleria for a last-minute purchase.
Blue Badge guide to London and academic specialising in early twentieth century history. Blogging on history, academia, and food and culture in the capital (and occasionally elsewhere).