Jury service changed my thinking: Ruma Parvin
As millions were observing Johnny Depp and Amber Heard in their public defamation trial, I was reminded of my own experience as a juror earlier this year and the lessons I (re)discovered.
Ruma Parvin is Debt and Outreach Generalist Adviser at Citizens Advice Epsom & Ewell.
Wishes come true. A while back, I made a sincere supplication to be summoned for jury service. I recognised a gap in my knowledge of what happens in court and was curious on how decisions were made by the jury. I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to demystify my confusion and try out the role of ‘foreperson’ who announces the verdict – something I jumped at.
Facts matter. As jurors, we are charged with the responsibility of deciding whether the defendant is guilty of the offence they have been accused of. Essentially, we are deciding someone’s fate.
Evidence provided only in court
We are instructed to base our decision on the evidence provided only in court and forbidden from research and discussions with anyone other than the jurors on the case. We must also ensure our emotions, assumptions and speculation do not influence our decisions. This is tougher than it sounds, especially when most of my life decisions are driven by emotions. Since this experience, I try to focus more on facts at work.
Honesty is truly the best policy. On TV Judge Judy Sheindlin once said “if you tell the truth, then you don’t have to have a good memory”. That stuck with me. It is interesting how our bodies can deceive us when they disagree with our speech, even with substantial acting skills. A good test is when someone asks you how you are and you pretend to be fine. Fortunately, it is the role of the prosecution to convince us the defendant is guilty of the offence or telling a pack of lies. Unless we are absolutely sure of the evidence and the arguments put forward by the prosecution, we cannot announce a guilty verdict.
Conscious effort to keep everyone involved
Good teamwork can make dream work. The general rule is that each juror should have a say, be heard and be treated with respect. Although our deliberation was heated at times, there was a conscious effort to keep everyone involved. For example, when someone went to the toilet we waited until they came back before continuing with the discussion. During one case our group was divided and continued to be so for 6 hours of deliberation. Following further instructions from the judge, we opted for a majority at 10:2. Though we had differences in opinions we agreed to avoid a hung jury.
Insight and understanding
An element of gratitude makes every experience worth it. There were times I was struggling to keep alert in court, especially re-watching video footage for hours, or keeping patience whilst waiting around. There were times tears were rolling down my cheeks listening to the defendants’ life experiences, and even attempting to hold back laughter as one defendant’s comical statements shone through – even the security guard couldn’t hold back. We get an insight into someone’s complex life and have an understanding of what shaped them. To imagine the defendants had to wait over two years for their chance in court and the impact it had on their lives alone made me grateful for my own life.
Taking an oath in court
Fear is not always bad. Taking an oath in court and swearing by Allah put the fear of life in me. I was scared of not faithfully trying the defendants and giving a true verdict according to the evidence. It made me conscious of my thinking and what I expressed. I was overwhelmed by the reaction of the defendants once the verdict was announced. In one week, we had saved two lives.
As I walked out the building on the last day, I noticed a shift in my mindset (and within my soul) on how I viewed my life. No matter what personal troubles I have to deal with, I was certain relief was near. I felt alive.