A glooming peace this morning with it brings;
The sun, for sorrow, will not show his head:
Go hence, to have more talk of these sad things;
Some shall be pardon’d, and some punished:
For never was a story of more woe
Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.
I spent last week at the Old Bailey on Jury Service. On balance, I’d say it was interesting, rather than enjoyable.
I served on one jury, in the case of The Crown v Watson, a man charged with two stranger rapes from years ago. DNA evidence linked him to the incidents. The defendant said they were consensual casual sex; the complainants, that they were violent assaults. So we heard from the women, the examining doctors, a friend, a mother, a police officer, and Mr Watson himself. We heard closing statements, and admissions, and the judge’s summing up. Then we deliberated.
The criminal justice system in general, and the Old Bailey in particular, are strange beasts. The curious terminology; the strict rules; artefacts from another age - swearing on holy books, wigs, robes. A court schedule that begins after 10am and finishes before 4pm. Lots of waiting in marble corridors as wigged advocates stride past with armfuls of ring binders.
Weirdest of all perhaps, being one of a group of twelve Londoners chosen for no special expertise but our representativeness. Listening to days of stories of injuries and suffering, but unable to talk about them to each other in the frequent breaks. No tweeting, no background research, no discussion with family. Social media utterly useless, except as a way each evening to take my mind off the unpleasant reality and anatomical detail we’d been presented with daily in court.
After five days of evidence, we considered our verdicts, and found the defendant guilty on both counts.
Released from jury service at the end of the trial, I felt I’d discharged an important civic duty - having heard more unpleasantness and worked harder than I’d expected to. Our last task as jurors: to wrestle with expenses forms, and say our goodbyes.
But on the stairs leading out of the building, I passed a black woman, bent over on the green marble steps, wailing with deep, inconsolable sadness. Maybe a mother grieving a life taken, or one forfeited; her family standing around trying to comfort her. It might have been this real-life story of horror, from a case which concluded at the same time as ours.
It felt like a physical kick in the stomach.
It brought home to me that criminal justice of the kind heard at the Central Criminal Court rarely ends in smiles, or even satisfaction. Everyone is a loser from the stories of evil heard each day in those courtrooms.
In that context, the lumbering process, the clumsy and uncomfortable detail coaxed from hesitant witnesses, the wigged advocates playing to roles - if not their personal convictions - and the twelve strangers briefly given such power over an individual, begin to make some sense.
Photo: Loz Flowers