Monday, 13 June 2011

Hung Jury

I bought Malcolm Knox’s The Secrets of the Jury Room (2005) just after I served on a jury. My experience on the jury was awful, largely due to my fellow jurors and their insistence on guilt because the defendant did not take the stand and ‘looked like the type’ to have committed the crime. After a daylong trial and four days of deliberation we ended up with a hung jury, (I was one of the two jurors not convinced of guilt beyond reasonable doubt). The zealousness with which my fellow jurors sought to convict and their willingness to disregard evidence that did not suit their pre-conceived ideas was frustrating and at times gut wrenching.

Knox's book was wonderful, describing in perfect detail the rooms where I had spent my week in the bowels of Sydney’s Downing Centre. I enjoyed Knox’s story of how he tried to get out of serving, and then finds himself empanelled on a jury for a person accused of soliciting another to commit murder. Knox’s case was considerably more interesting than mine, the luck of the draw when it comes to jury selection, but this was quite fortuitous as his case made for a compelling backdrop to this book.

Part courtroom drama, part true crime story, the book is ultimately a critique of the criminal justice system and the role of juries. Malcolm Knox studied law before becoming a journalist and novelist. He brings these skills to his writing and intersperses his research of the jury process with his own experience.

While studying for my law degree I spent many hours observing juries from the outside. So the experience sitting on a jury provided me with a different perspective on the criminal justice system in Australia and greatly enriched my knowledge. I believe strongly in one’s civic duty to serve on a jury when called and support Knox’s calls for reform. The Secrets of the Jury Room should be required reading for all in the legal profession.