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My Day* in Court

* Well just over one hour.

Earlier this week, I attended Falkirk Sheriff Court after receiving a Jury Citation letter a couple of months ago. I thought I would write a quick note about my experience here.

This is the first time I have received a Jury Citation. I have previously received a letter when I lived in Edinburgh however that one was only asking me what my travel plans over the next 12 months were. At that time, I was about on my last summer in Edinburgh before moving south to work at British Sugar & responded 'will no longer live in city after August'.

This time there was no pre-letter asking about travel arrangements, just 'You must attend personally for jury service at...'

On the back of the letter I was requested to do 3 things: 1. Respond to the Jury Citation by going to their website. 2. Read the guidance documents on their website. 3. Phone the night before after 5PM to check if I was still required.

As it turned out, I was not required on the Monday however I was to phone back the following night. On the second night, I was told attendance was required the following morning at 10AM.

Frustratingly, this was the day I was due to repeat my 10 control lies presentation to Strathclyde University chemeng students. I hope this can be rescheduled soon.

On the Tuesday morning I set off on foot to the train station with plenty of time. The guidance made it clear that public transport was preferred and that there was no dedicated car park at the court (though there is free on-street parking in the surrounding area). Unfortunately as I approached the train station, I was stopped by another would-be passenger who told me that all the trains had been cancelled, someone had committed suicide in the station and jumped onto the track.

I looked up to see that, yes, there were a lot of police and others in high vis vests in the area and I had seen an ambulance pass me earlier as I was walking up the road. Rather than feeling sorry or sad about the situation, my first thoughts were of the warning on the front of the citation:

If you fail to attend, you may be liable to a fine of up to £1000

I walked home, (phoning the court on route to leave a message warning them I may be late), picked up the car and drove to the court.

Upon arriving at the court, my citation was stamped and I was directed up to court 3. The 'viewing area' was already looking full and after I sat down, it continued to fill until almost all the seats were actually being used.

It felt like being in school again when the clerk took the attendance reading out each person's name in turn and getting them to shout 'here'. I reckon no more that 20 names were not answered (of the 150 people cited).

To my surprise, there was only one trial being held which meant only 15 people would be required. In Scotland, there must be a minimum of 30 people to ballot for the jury, but this meant we had 100 people more than required!

We were given a quick introduction, the defendant was brought in, followed by the sheriff. We were informed that when the sheriff enters, it is court etiquette to stand and remain standing until the sheriff takes his seat.

Once everyone was present, the jurors were picked from a ballot (names on pieces of rolled up paper selected from a glass bowl).

No surprise that I was not one of the ones selected, but we still had to wait until the trial was actually started and (again like school) needed to wait to be dismissed by the sheriff.

After the jurors were selected, they took the oath. I noticed that there was no opportunity given to request the non-religious affirmation. Once the oath was taken, the sheriff called a quick break to allow the jurors to retire to the jury room and leave any belongings there.

Again we all had to stand as the sheriff stood and left, followed by the jurors and the defendant leaving.

20 minutes later, they all came back in, again stand while the sheriff enters. Only then do we actually get dismissed though we were to phone the information line that night after 5PM to see if we were to attend the next day (we weren't).

I would have thought that if you had 150 people attending court, you would try and get two or three juries out of it (they have four court rooms). The whole system just seems very inefficient.

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