My experience in NSW Court last Friday (as a key witness / participant) made me think back to my time earlier in the year as a jury member in a Melbourne Criminal proceeding and the entire justice system.
For background I was called up for a criminal court proceeding which I had postponed from the April quarter due to my Alaska trip in June 2011 until the July quarter, so I had no excuses. I actually wanted to be involved at some point in my life as I see jury service as a key part of our responsibilities as citizens of this country. Having given extensive evidence in NSW court case in April however I found it ironic both were having so close together.
First thing is I was surprised that I even ended up empanelled. My name was eventually selected at random to go up to a court room for potential selection. They select 28 people and I noticed that there were only about 7 men, making my chances a little higher. I was drawn out first and took the cat walk past the defendant who was informed that I worked for the Australian Government, that normally gets defendants to knock you out. I wasn’t challenged so I was empanelled, I can tell you my work colleagues were very surprised.
From the jury panel I got to watch everyone else have to walk past the defendant. The defendant has 6 challenges available to him and he used them all to knock out young women, this become more important later on. Eventually the defendant got stuck with 5 men and 7 women running out of challenges.
The charge was armed with criminal intent which sounds simple but is actually very hard. I’m not allowed to go into the evidence or identify exactly what happened due to secrecy so I keep this general so no one can be identified.
I can say that a lot of information was held back from the jury to not prejudice us (this was obvious after the case). The defence really went to town on police giving evidence questioning their character, competence and motives. The defendant decided to testify in his defence which is not mandatory. The judge explained and decided the facts of law and after 5 days we retired to decide with access to the transcript and evidence (knife, chains, written plan, photos etc).
Deciding was extremely difficult for the 12 members, but not for obvious reasons. All members thought the individual would commit a crime but we had to determine if he would on the particular day he was arrested. Also several members had problems finding anyone guilty because of what happens next to the individual. One jury member was close to breaking down because he didn’t feel he could judge anyone. Eventually we reached a decision of guilty.
My experience made me think that their there is great integrity in the general public who get selected. Everyone took this extremely seriously. I believe our system favours the accused, getting 12 people to agree, is very difficult and obviously if 1 person believes not guilty then that’s the result.
This is how it must happen. My experiences with prosecution and police have demonstrated to me that they almost always see the bad and would be find everyone guilty. What we need is to get citizens involved and to keep questioning authority. Some guilty people might get away with a crime, but ‘not guilty’ doesn’t mean ‘innocent’ just 12 people couldn’t be satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt.
I now appreciate the system a lot better, and I appreciate why it is setup the way it is and the difficulties the people involved in the system have. However we must always question those in power to keep them honest.