My jury service began today. A two-week campaign for truth and justice. A fortnight holed-up in a well-hidden Crown Court somewhere in the Southwark area. And all reasonable expenses paid.
There were just over 60 of us there bright and early this morning, all standing around in the foyer of the court looking a bit lost. We were ushered upstairs to what can best be described as the jury lounge, a bland featureless waiting room complete with almost-comfy seats, a sort-of-canteen and a selection of year-old magazines. We had to prove that we were who we said we were (I wonder sometimes if the best thing I got out of a year's worth of driving lessons was just a very expensive identity card). We sat through an informative video which contained everything we should have read in the booklet they sent us a month ago, only this time with a really naff synthesiser backing track. We listened to the jury officer telling us about what we might expect over our 'ten working days' and found out that we can claim a massive £2.34 each day for lunch. And, finally, we were divided up into one of four randomly-selected groups, one group per new trial.
Looking round the lounge, it was fascinating to see what a random selection of the British public actually looks like. In fact it was quite reassuring to see that random selection appears to produce what looks like a rational and reliable group of upstanding citizens. Could be useful if you're ever falsely accused of some heinous crime at some point in the future, and it gives you some faith in the whole jury system.
And then the wait started. It was well after ten o'clock by this time, and last week's jurors were only just dribbling in for the start of their second week. After a few minutes, one of the four new groups was called down to be sworn in for their trial. Everyone else sat and waited with traditional British reserve. One or two people started up a conversation, but not for long. Most people just opened up the reading material they'd brought with them and buried themselves in it. Half an hour later the rest of the group were no doubt wishing that the canteen sold paperbacks or magazines as well as packets of crisps and bananas. A second group were called down to court, and the rest of us looked at the clock and wondered when our time would come.
Hours passed. The seats got less comfortable and people got more restless. Eventually I finished the paperback I'd brought with me, all 200-plus pages of it. I know I read far too fast, but I was very glad I'd thought to bring a reserve with me. Then, just two pages into the new book, there was a crackle over the intercom and my group were called to the jury office. It turned out that our trial never ever got to the needing-a-jury stage, following some protracted legal stuff downstairs, so we were all told we could go home for the rest of the day. Tomorrow we start again from scratch, get allocated to a new trial, and see if anybody wants us this time. I bought a new book on the way home. I have a feeling I may be needing it sooner rather than later.