Back in mid-June, I received a summons from the NSW Government to report for jury duty on Monday 3 August, for a trial with an estimated length of eight weeks.
My initial reaction was dismay.
This was not because I had anything against jury duty, however, but because:
- I was going to Canberra Brick Expo 2015 as an exhibitor at the end of August, and
- most of all, a trial of up to eight weeks would seriously interfere with my job-hunting
At first, I decided to wait until 3 August and request a shorter trial if available when I reported for duty.
A week before then, however, I decided to try requesting an exemption online.
So I did, but by the night of Sunday 2 August the only feedback I’d received was two text messages reminding me to report for duty.
Ah, well. It wasn’t the end of the world – jury duty could be an interesting experience, and I would get paid for it.
Monday, 3 August.
I headed off to the Downing Centre courthouse complex in downtown Sydney. Fortunately, it’s only about 15 minutes’ walk from where I live.
I’ve walked past the Downing Centre many times during the past two decades, and I’d long been intrigued by what it was like inside. Today, I would finally find out.
Just before 9am I went inside, headed down to the main waiting area below ground level, and reported for duty.
I requested a shorter trial period, and I was granted two weeks instead of eight weeks.
Greatly relieved that my upcoming trip to Canberra and my job-hunting prospects were now safe, I relaxed.
Along with many others who had also reported for duty that morning, I took a seat, began reading on my Kindle and waited to see if my number would be called.
As well, a court officer arrived and showed us a short video about what serving on a jury could be like. It was very encouraging.
Shortly after 10am, my number was called.
About 20-30 of us gathered with a court officer, who then took us to one of the courtrooms on an upper floor in another part of the Downing Centre.
As we walked along, I was amazed by the sheer size of the Centre and wondered how it had looked in its 1908-1983 life as a department store (although as I would find out the next day, some rooms could be quite small).
We entered a modern-looking courtroom and sat in the public-gallery area.
The judge there explained more about what serving on a jury entailed, and mentioned that the case to be heard here was for a break-and-enter indictment that was expected to run for four days.
Any of us who wanted to ask for a possible exemption were allowed to do so. A few did, and while some were refused others were allowed.
Then the first 12 potential jurors were called.
I wasn’t one of them.
Next, the accused was given the opportunity to challenge any jurors that he didn’t feel looked suitable. Three or four of them were, and replacements were selected.
I wasn’t one of them, either.
Soon, those of us left in the public gallery were taken back to the main waiting room for perhaps another chance to be selected.
When I returned to the same seat that I had occupied in the main waiting room, it was after 10:30am.
We had been told that if we weren’t called again by noon, we could go home.
Either way, if I did end up on another case or not, I wasn’t concerned.
I took out my Kindle and began reading again.
An hour passed.
Not long before noon approached, an announcement over the PA system mentioned that the next series of cases were still being organised, and the officer apologised for keeping us waiting.
Another half-hour went by.
Just before 12:30pm, my number was called again.
Soon another group of us were taken to another courtroom in another part of the Centre, but this time on the same lower-ground floor.
This court was modern like the previous one I’d entered, but its public gallery was quite small and sealed off behind glass. With a large group of us potential jurors crowding in, it felt a little claustrophobic.
Once again the judge here explained what was involved, and mentioned the indictment for this case: sexual intercourse without consent.
That made me feel a little uneasy.
Anyone who wanted to request exemptions were invited to approach the judge. A couple of people submitted their requests privately in writing; one of them was a woman whose request was granted, and as she left the courtroom I saw that she was in tears.
A couple of open requests were rejected. In the break-and-enter case earlier that morning, an exemption was granted because the requestor claimed English as a second language – but this time the judge refused a similar request because he half-jokingly stated that with half the population of Sydney nowadays having English as a second language, if he granted exemptions for that no cases would ever be heard.
Finally, the first 12 potential jurors were called.
I was the second.
I gingerly made my way out of the crowded public gallery, entered the courtroom and took a seat in the jury box.
Soon the next 10 potential jurors joined me, and then the accused was allowed to challenge us.
The first potential juror stood up on my left, and was challenged.
A moment after he left, I stood up.
I turned to the nearby court officer, and she said that I could sit back down.
Shortly after, the third potential juror stood up on my right.
He was also challenged, and he also left.
As the challenge process continued, I glanced at the accused and couldn’t help wonder why the others had been challenged and I hadn’t.
Of course, I also wondered about the accused himself, who looked like many other young Australian men in their 20s.
What was the crime he had been accused of committing?
Soon, the jury was finally selected, and those left in the public gallery filed out.
The judge spoke to us again about what serving on a jury entailed, and then the female prosecutor spoke.
Her official title, which sounded quite formidable, was Madam Crown.
She spoke very directly and matter-of-factly, and in the days to come my fellow jurors and I would find that Madam Crown could be very formidable indeed.
She gave a brief description of what our case involved.
The accused had been indicted for sexual intercourse without consent against a young woman back in June 2014.
It would be up to my fellow jurors and I to determine if he was innocent, or guilty.
Because it was now mid-afternoon, the judge adjourned until tomorrow morning.
My fellow jurors and I were taken by an officer up to the jurors level in the attached building next door, where we were given our room and told more about jury service.
Finally, at around 3pm we were told that we could leave.
About 15 minutes later, I was at my usual watering hole on George Street.
I wasn’t planning to get hammered, though – I was merely having a couple of Diet Cokes before I headed elsewhere for dinner.
But as I sat and drank, I thought a lot about the day’s events and especially what lay ahead.
Hearing details about a sexual assault wasn’t going to be pleasant at all.
But it was very important that I would be, because one of my fellow citizens needed my help.
That citizen was either the young woman who had been a victim of sexual assault, or the young man who had been accused of committing that crime.
I hoped that along with my fellow jurors, I would be able to do the right thing.
TO BE CONTINUED