Story telling from Australia
Jury service has been on my bucket list for decades. The sense of elation at being summoned earlier this year was matched by bitter disappointment when the trial got cancelled, two days before I was due in court. So when a new summons arrived I said nothing, nursing a secret hope that this time I might actually get to serve.
I consulted widely on how to improve my chances of being picked. Hair? Make-up? Clothes? The answer from most sources was, ‘wear something bland.’
One person misunderstood the question.
‘If you want to get out of jury duty turn up with pink hair and a ring through your nose.’
‘No, you don’t understand. I want to do it.’
I ignored all my wide-legged hippy pants and colourful t-shirts and opted for a blouse, bought cheaply and never worn because it makes me look like a frumpy, middle-aged woman with limited interests. A ‘blouse’ can do that, especially the wrong one. I wore no make up and teamed ‘the blouse’ with a pair of black trousers normally reserved for gardening.
It was a sunny morning, I felt suitably bland on the bus…and wildly optimistic.
Around 65 potential jurors turned up and half a dozen were excused for various reasons, which left around 60. I’m no mathematician but I guessed that gave me a 1 in 5 chance. Not bad odds.
We all received individual ballot numbers and filed into the courtroom to listen to the judge outline the nature of the case.
‘This is a civil case of defamation and as such we require only four jurors,’ she said, lengthening the odds considerably. ‘The use and complexity of language will play a key role in proceedings, so you should be confident in your ability to understand English.’
I tried not to wave my ballot paper. Over here! Pick me!
We were given a brief outline of the case: three Muslim men had accused The Daily Telegraph of writing an article that defamed them. Their barrister spoke.
‘Given the nature of this case and its focus on the Islamic religion if any of you feel unable to make an impartial judgement, for whatever reason, you should approach the bench and ask to be excused.’
Three people left and the rest of us sat in silence, waiting.
Four ballot numbers were called. Four potential jurors took their seats. The judge addressed them.
‘When your number is called, please stand.’
They stood in turn, and two were challenged. There were no questions asked, no reasons given, just one word – challenge – from the barrister representing the Muslim men. Two potential jurors were off the panel, which left two empty slots.
The clerk of the court called another number.
I fairly skipped to the box. Language? I love language! I even speak a bit of Arabic! I spent two years working in Saudi Arabia and I’m not remotely prejudiced against Islam or Muslims. This is your lucky day, lads!
I rose to my feet.
What? What are you talking about? I’m an ideal candidate! Why don’t you want me? And then it struck me. I didn’t look like an ideal candidate. I looked – and here’s the biggest irony of all – like a Daily Telegraph reader.
It was a bitter blow and it served me right for pretending to be someone I wasn’t. Justice was well and truly served.
I got home, changed into hippy trousers and locked myself into my studio. I got on with writing the next book and something shifted as I wrote. The story flowed and the words made me laugh. I wasn’t trying to be clever or write like someone more talented or more creative, I was writing. This is me. This is what I do and this is who I am, I thought. And I’m proud of it.
That blouse is heading for the charity shop.
(image courtesy of http://www.justiceproject.org)