That’s what the justice system here hinges on. I don’t think I fully understood the ramifications of this until I started my jury service this week. For those of you who don’t know, anyone over the age 18 who has been a UK resident for a certain number years is eligible to be part of a jury that tries a criminal case. You are chosen out of a lottery and you have to attend (unless you have a decent excuse- ‘I have work’ isn’t good enough). And well, I got chosen.
Going into this, I knew it would be a new experience; I was curious about the courtroom and how much it lived up to the movies. I also naively thought it wouldn’t be that difficult.
[Now that we’ve given the verdict on the case I was on, I think I’m allowed to talk about it vaguely.]
My case was a stabbing. When I first heard that, I thought it was going to court as a formality. I mean how tough can it be? Someone got stabbed. Someone did the stabbing. There’s a clear guilty party. Right? Wrong. It’s not that simple.
It’s very easy from an outsider’s point of view to read something in the newspapers and just see it as black and white as the ink against paper. But we’re people, we’re humans and that automatically means we’re messy. The same action in different contexts can have totally different interpretations.
Let’s take an extreme example. Bob is naked in the shower. Perfectly fine. Bob is naked in the middle of a football match. That’s indecent exposure. As a jury, it is our duty to try and understand the context and it the job of the prosecution and defense to paint the scene as clearly as possible for us.
It is part of the jury’s oath to only judge the defendant based on the evidence and that means no assuming. You are not allowed to try and imagine what they may or may not have done and that is a lot harder than it sounds. For example, one of the witnesses on trial sounded completely rude and ignorant in my opinion and I could easily imagine them escalating a situation or causing trouble. But that doesn’t mean that they did and I cannot assume that. As a member of the jury you need to put aside your imagination.
The prosecution’s job is to prove beyond all reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty of the crime. The defense have to prove nothing. Moreover the defense do not have to prove that the defendant is innocent. If you have doubts that they committed the crime, you must find them not guilty. That means even if you think they did it with some confidence, unless you are certain and have enough evidence to back up your surety, you cannot find them guilty. And that is exactly what it means to be innocent until proven guilty. That is better to let a guilty party walk free if you are not sure than it is to let an innocent party go to jail.
Whether or not you think that is right is irrelevant. That is how a jury is instructed to judge. In my case, it was a stabbing and the stabber was acquitted. I wasn’t happy about it but we had enough doubt that it could have been accidental or in self defense that we had to give a not guilty verdict. That doesn’t mean I think they’re innocent.
So next time you see something in a paper and think ‘pff what a soft sentence’… think again. It quite difficult to say someone is certainly guilty.
Over and Out!
P.S I tittered privately when I heard the judge who was fully decked out in a wig and formal robes say ‘fuck you, you pussy’. She was quoting obviously lol.