Law and Order


Has anyone ever been called up for jury duty and ended up being a juror?  During the last fifty years I have been called many, many times but never chosen.  How do they know that I am so suspicious of the whole jury system?  Are those defense or prosecution people gifted in clairvoyance?  The courts that I was mainly called to in order to be chosen as a bright and promising juror were in Balmain, Goulburn NSW and City of Sydney Courts.

 I suspect that most Court Houses conform to my experiences in being old, cold, and dusty, riddled by rats and guilt.

Both Balmain and Goulburn Court Houses have those round roofed domes and solid columns and have some sort of pretence to architecture of glorious colonial days.

This is the Balmain Experience.

 We step inside through a formal entrance and this is the area where the last of the cigarette butts are often forsaken in sandy bins.

 The formal part of the jury selection kicks off by an Orderly or other Court attendant who has a list of names. The names are being called out, this is done by the rocking backwards and forwards on heels to add some form of importance and dignity, I suppose.

The whole lot of us then walks into the court room whereby we sit down on the most uncomfortable seating that seems to have been specifically designed for immediate repentance.

We sit on long narrow wooden benches with seats twenty or so centimetres wide, but the wooden backrests actually lean forward, the angle being around 80 degrees to the seat.  This makes all those that are seated feeling that they have done something terribly wrong, or that they should spend the time there on knees instead of sitting, or are in church at a funeral of a bishop. Mixed messages for potential jurors here?

This is nothing compared with the acoustics. The only sound absorbing material in those dank court rooms could be those silly wigs, kept in Arnott’s biscuit tins, or those blue duffel bags that lawyers are so fond of slinging over their shoulders, perhaps even the shriveled judges, if they turned up. Not a word can be understood by anyone, but perhaps that is part of this curious juror choosing spectacle. The point might well be to impose solemnity on the whole court system… How can anyone not be found guilty under those terrible conditions? My own guilt immediately went into automatic.

A special video is shown to the jurors to be chosen which is mainly brown in colour and content.

We were then told that ‘deliberations’ had to be performed and this would take until after lunch. Now, I expected to at least be given a sandwich and coffee, but no, nothing, not as much as a Nescafe, not even a warm room to retire to. No, just hanging around the entrance with the bins of butts and other outcasts.

After lunch we are asked to enter the Court Room again and this time we are seated on the side in slightly more comfortable arrangements. Now the selection starts.  An assortment of the most devious looking characters is looking us over now, and this is also the moment where I invariably get not chosen. I am a legal reject, time and time again, this is perplexing. Why am I always kicked out? What do they look for in a juror?

 In any case, they are right. I don’t like a set up as anachronistic as the way all this is done. It is a hangover from colonial times. Why are those Court Buildings (apart from some City Courts) so dingy and Charles Dickensian? Why, are the acoustics so atrocious and where are modern conveniences with buildings that are suitable for to- day’s use of justice? Is justice being served best when it seems almost deliberate to make one feel so uncomfortable and intimidated by a process so cumbersome, time wasting and lacking in logic. It must also be enormously costly. Why not do away with jurors all together if conditions for jurors are so bad? Is there not a bias formed in jurors suffering those discomforts?

Of course, the whole issue of whether justice is served best under a jury system is also debatable. Has anyone done any statistics on numbers of guilty or not guilty amongst gloomy courts and more people friendly courts with comforts such as canteen availability with refreshments, good sound absorbing materials and amplification systems that are clear so everyone gets to hear what is being said?

Here at the NSW Goulburn Court House (the Mecca for crime and punishment) the court has a friendly reminder and map pointing where the last prisoner was hanged in the garden just in front. Most of the time spent between and during the jury selection process was outside on the veranda in temperatures of about 6c above zero.

The overwhelming feeling one is left with is; that a juror is only slightly better than the accused. Why is that so, and should the jury system dispensed with altogether?

Why not abolish it, if it has also proven to be so often flawed?

(This was first published many years ago)


15 Responses to “Law and Order”

  1. auntyuta Says:

    This is an interesting comment by Herman from 2009:

    Herman Says:
    July 22, 2009
    Well said. I have had 3 similar experiences at “The big court” in Taylor square Sydney but got 60 cents bus money !! The cost in wasting a lot of peoples time is unbelieveble, less than 50% ARE “CHOSEN”. Anachronistic is putting it mildly !!!

    Gerard, is Herman one of your brothers?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. shoreacres Says:

    I’ve been called four times, but the interesting thing is that two summons came from Harris County (Houston) and two from Galveston County; I had moved, which accounted for the difference.

    In any event, the experiences were quite different. My Houston experience was an all-day affair, thanks mostly to having to be taken to the courthouse and returned home by bus; on the other hand, that did eliminate driving into the city and finding a place to park. The reception area was dingy, the process disorganized, and some of my fellow potential jurors looked as though they might have been defendants.

    In Galveston, a new, post-hurricane courthouse meant a clean, comfortable waiting area. Drinks were allowed, groups of potential jurors were limited to a hundred or so at a time, and things moved smoothly. I was able to go through the process and be back home before lunch.

    I never was chosen, and now it’s been some time since I’ve received a summons, since those over 65 are excused. The last time I was called, I was excused because I was self-employed, and if I weren’t at work, no work would be done. The judge listened to me make my case, agreed with my reasoning, and sent me on my way. I certainly was glad, because it was a complicated case that eventually dragged on for several weeks.

    I will admit to laughing at the tidbit about the Goulburn Court House having a sign indicating where the last hanging took place. We still have a few hanging trees on courthouse lawns.

    Liked by 2 people

    • gerard oosterman Says:

      Yes, and lawyers both for the prosecution and defense walk past the juror’s applicants and look them over and reject those they feel might not be suitable to their cause of finding the accused guilty or not.

      What are the criteria they use? Facial expressions, hunched shoulders, evasive eyes, unpolished shoes?

      My rejection each time might be my serious countenance mistaken for unflinching character or blind obstinacy. I don’t know.

      Of course, today with my hearing loss I would not know what might be going on in the Court, probably use the time to have a nice nap.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. leggypeggy Says:

    I’ve never been called for jury duty. I wonder if I’d be chosen.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. doesitevenmatter3 Says:

    I’ve been called for jury duty selection…several cases, after being questioned, I was dismissed from serving. (reasons why, like they didn’t like my strong stance against drugs, child abuse, etc.)
    I did get to serve on one jury and it was interesting!
    (((HUGS))) 🙂 ❤️

    Liked by 2 people

  5. rangewriter Says:

    Interesting. You describe my first jury summons very well. It was about as dark and dungeony as you describe. But like you, I was rejected. I’ve actually been called to jury duty 3 times in my life and rejected two times. The third time I actually sat in on the case. It was an interesting process. We on the jury all felt that the accused was entirely guilty of what he was accused of, but sadly the prosecution did not provide evidence to support what we could all “just feel.” We had to let the rat go. I’m curious why all 3 jury summons I’ve received occurred while I was employed. Now that I’m retired and footloose and fancy free, I’ve not been contacted for jury duty. It’s been 13 years!

    Liked by 2 people

    • gerard oosterman Says:

      In The Netherlands it’s the judge who deals with the accused after investigating all aspects of the alleged crime, supported by both the prosecutor and defense. The accused doesn’t even have to appear in Court unless requested.
      There are no juries.

      Europe generally don’t have the adversarial law system which to my thinking saves a lot of money and heartache. Of course, the lawyers love the adversarial British system. And those silly wigs. Did you know the Judges and barristers have different wigs?

      Liked by 1 person

  6. freefall852 Says:

    This article from the famous defence advocate, Clarence Darrow may help to clear some topics in the conversation up…A wonderful piece full of wit and wisdom..:

    Liked by 1 person

    • gerard oosterman Says:

      A very interesting article freefall. Thank you.
      Yes, the pomp and ceremony. The language used is so adversarial. In the latest case of a woman alleging she was raped. The defense for the accused (the rapist) described that the woman was wearing a long white dress and shoes with ‘nude’ heels. What has that sort of language to do with that case except to blow it up?

      Liked by 1 person

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