Reported for jury duty last week. An interesting experience, but one I won’t have to repeat for another three years.
Here’s how it went. Required to be at the downtown courthouse on University Avenue, Toronto, at 8:30 a.m.. This meant getting up about 6:30 a.m. –- an early start for the first day of my ‘retirement’. Everyone entering the courthouse is screened, airport style, and signs are posted inside advising that sharp objects and prohibited weapons are banned.
This is a large courthouse. Five floors of courtrooms. There’s a whole lot of criminal justice going on here.
About 500 potential jurors gather in a large, comfortable room complete with its own coffee shop, wifi, tables, study carrels, and jigsaw puzzles. We sit down and wait. Before long we realize it’s all about waiting.
The juror wranglers have an intricate system of keeping track of everyone: colour-coded teams, attendance sheets, leave your summons here if you leave the room.
A video from the 1980s on the important rule of jurors in the legal system is shown and then a fellow gives us a presentation on what to expect and the rules we must follow. He does this every Monday to the new recruits.
We wait to be called and eventually about ninety of us on the green team are summoned to a courtroom for jury selection. We rise when the judge enters and he begins by explaining the importance of the juror in the trial system. After the defendant is arraigned on two counts of sexual assault and a not guilty plea entered, jury selection begins.
Numbers are drawn we line up in groups of about 30. We are divided into three groups and one group at a time is questioned by the lawyers for the defence and the Crown. I was in the last group, and by the time they got to us, the day was over and we were told to go home.
The next morning we waited in another courtroom for a couple of hours but finally word came that the trial was underway and our services would not be required. By then it was lunchtime.
We were called again in the afternoon to another sexual assault trial. As it was expected to take five days and I have a speaking engagement next week, I was excused.
Outside each courtroom lists are posted of the cases to be tried. The charges are eye watering: attempted murder, fraud, concealed weapons, disguise with intent, sexual assault. The names of the accused testify to the multicultural nature of this city. Court officials in their dark robes and white ties swish along the corridors. The judges’ robes, with red sash and crest, are rather splendid and add to the atmosphere of judicial theatre.
By Wednesday after lunch, when our numbers were considerably thinned out, those of us who remained were told there would be no more juries this week and we were free to go.
My short time in the courthouse inspired me to do things: go back next summer and sit in on a trial and read a courtroom thriller.