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Saturday, August 27, 2011

Acting defensively

So this week, I've been on Jury Service.  And of course, because it's me, I'm going to tell you all about it.  Don't worry, I'm not quite so stupid as this woman; I can tell you all about it because the trial is over.  Although I still have another week of Jury Service to complete.  I assume they'll give me a new trial.  Now I have some experience I'd like to be the judge, or at the very least a barrister on this next one.

I arrived at the Old Bailey on Monday morning.  The timing of these things is never ideal: not only have we just bought (and were trying to redecorate) a buy-to-let flat, but we have a holiday coming up after the Jury Service, plus the latest round of redundancy notices are expected to go out any minute at work.  Essentially I spent the previous fortnight trying to do all the work I need to do before my holiday ends (in October) to a quality that means it would be a bad idea to make me redundant, having increasingly paranoid conversations with plumbers and trying to keep a lid on what was threatening to become a full-scale nervous breakdown.

Let's just say I was ready to dispense some justice.  And if one of the defendants had been a plumber, there was a very real chance I'd just shout, "Off with his head!".  Thankfully it didn't come to that.

So, of the jurors waiting in the waiting area, fifteen of us were called at random and marched into a courtroom.  Twelve of us were then selected as jurors.  I refused to swear on the Bible, choosing a non-religious "Affirmation" instead.  The wigs were hilariously ridiculous.  So were the graduation-style gowns they wore, with little cravats.  I thought so at the time, anyway.  I thought they were less ridiculous later in the morning, and actually began to envy them; the temperature in the room was sub-Arctic, and a nice warm wig and a black dressing gown would have gone down nicely.

Although I believe I'm at liberty to divulge pretty much anything about the trial, with respect to the defendant (whom, after a 3-day trial was found not guilty... though let's just say I certainly wasn't convinced about his innocence.  Which is apparently different to finding someone guilty.  It's all very silly), I won't actually mention anything that would allow you to identify either the defendant or the trial.

Everyone who worked in the courtroom was very, very posh.  They would make the three-way bastard love-child of Hugh Grant, Boris Johnson and Stephen Fry (go on, picture it, just for a second) look like Wayne Slob.  There were so many cut-glass accents in the courtroom from the judge, the prosecution barrister and the defence barrister, that my glass of water exploded several times.

At the end of day one, with the defendant sitting miserably in the dock, the Judge said, "Thank you Jury.  Your time here this afternoon has been much appreciated and we shall look forward to seeing you tomorrow morning when we sit at 10.30.  For those of you following the cricket, you'll be sorry to hear that Tendulkar missed his century..."  He then went on to give us a breakdown of the day's cricket match.  At the Old Bailey Central Criminal Court.  I found that massively disrespectful to the defendant.  But there you go.

That was comedy indeed, but true comedy gold came the next day with the prosecuting barrister calling his witness.  The witness was the police detective at the station who had arrested the defendant.  The prosecuting barrister handed out paper copies of a transcript of the interview, and - in case there were any among us who were illiterate (and actually, looking at some of my fellow jurors, that wasn't necessarily an incorrect assumption), they decided they were going to read it out.  Over 50 pages of it.  It was like a very bad student play.

The very best part of this is the policeman witness played himself.  He read out his own parts of the transcript.  But because they can only call one witness at a time, the defendant couldn't read his own part.  So the prosecuting barrister read out the defendant's lines.


Bobby - a down-to-earth, salt-of-the earth London copper.  
Prosecuting Solicitor - a ridiculously posh man wearing a stupid wig and cape PLAYING- a Jamaican man, mid-30s

Bobby: Right sonny, why was you on Fairleaves Road at 11 p.m.?

Prosecuting Solicitor: (in an extremely posh voice) Me was getting in me car, to meet me dealer who was sorting me some draw.  Me had me music on.

This went on for two hours.  The copper was being his London-self, and the prosecuting barrister - thankfully without any attempt on a Jamaican accent - read out the transcript exactly as the Jamaican defendant had said it.  It was hilarious.  It was exactly like Armstrong and Miller's Airmen sketch.  But a quick glance around my other jurors showed me that no-one else was laughing.  My shoulders were shaking.

My other favourite moment was when the defence called the defendant as a witness.  He was clearly nervous, and his heavy accent made him difficult at times to understand.  The following exchange genuinely happened:

Defending barrister: Mr Smith, how long have you lived in the UK?

Defendant: Since 2005.

Defending barrister: And your home country is Jamaica?

Defendant: Yes.

Defending barrister: What is your first language?

Defendant: Broken English.

I just wish I remembered more of it.  Perhaps I should take a dictaphone into court next time.  Well, that's one guaranteed way of shortening my Jury Service...


kayt said...

I just spent an inordinate amount of time watching all the Armstrong & Miller RAF clips. Silly me thought the joke was just a one off for the Armstrong & Miller/Mitchell & Webb Comic Relief version. Guess I have to go back to homework now. :/

Laura said...

Well worth looking out the whole Armstrong and Miller series (assume you've already seen Mitchell and Webb? If not, more homework for you!).

Does the RAF sketch work OK in the States - as it's such a close parody of how London teenagers trying to be "ethnic" talk?

L x