As sixteen of us are led into the court to be selected to try the case, I look around me. We’ve been brought in through a door near the jury benches, on one side of the court. Our seating is made of wood and fashioned like a church pew, with a ledge in front for paper and pens. We may keep the notes for the duration of the trial but they are then to be destroyed.
In front of the jury benches, and at ninety degrees to them, are the advocates’ benches, with three people in each. The dock, with a glass screen, is behind them. The clerk sits in front of them and the judge in a raised alcove behind her. Beyond the advocates are the usher’s bench on the right and the public gallery on the left, four benches that can hold three or four people each.
The judge is young, in his late thirties or early forties. He introduces himself, and then the barristers. The prosecution barrister is Roger Bastow, about the same age. Then there is Mr Smith, who represents Jacob Goodman; Miss Shah, barrister for George Drummond; and Miss Barry, whose client is Lloyd Wick. Miss Barry sits behind the others, with a young woman who makes a lot of notes and a middle-aged man who turns out to be the police detective on the case. We are asked if we know any of them, and also various witnesses whose names Bastow rattles off. We don’t.
Goodman, Drummond and Wick look us over. They seem very young; barely in their twenties.
Miss Shah, a chunky Asian woman with a beaked nose and big smile, could almost be the same age. She has the air of a school prefect. Barry is a lot older, with long blonded hair. Smith is probably in his thirties. The grey wigs sit incongruously on all of them.
We file into the benches in order as we’re called. These will be our seats for the entire trial. I desperately want to be picked – what crime thriller writer wouldn’t? – and to my relief I’m the last one. I had expected objections from the advocates – the defendants are all black or mixed race, while the jury is solidly white – but there are none.
Mr Goodman, Mr Drummond and Mr Wick sit silently, side by side in the dock, bookended by two security guards. They seem engaged right at the start, then slip into glassy-eyed boredom until CCTV footage is played. They’re very interested in that. It turns out this is the first time the prosecution witnesses have seen the footage. I imagine it’s a first for the defendants too, but not so, as I discover two days later.
The legal professionals all rib each other a lot, especially when Bastow can’t get the CCTV DVD to behave (it returns to the beginning when he freezes, rewinds, or fast forwards it).
“I know we’re all teasing Mr Bastow, your honour, but it’s not his fault,” Miss Shah says. “The connection’s loose. The TV switches off when I cross my legs.”
“Perhaps we need Miss Shah to uncross her legs,” the judge smirks when the TV refuses to start again.
Throughout the trial, the method of address is very formal. The judge is addressed as your honour and referred to as his honour. The barristers are Mr this and Miss that, and my learned friend. The defendants are addressed and referred to as Mr Goodman etc.
The jurors are given a list of charges against the defendant. They are accused of drugs and violent offences. Bastow then outlines the case. Four young men went out for a midweek drink. They had perhaps five pints each and a light meal, then ended up at the bar where they met the defendants.
The bar is well known; a respectable place not noted for trouble. I prick up my ears.
Bastow goes on to say two of the friends stood outside the bar to smoke, whereupon Goodman tried to sell them cocaine. They refused and went inside. It was alleged the three defendants and an unknown male went inside and attacked them.
CCTV footage is played. I am convinced at first that none of the defendants are on camera. The CCTV footage appears to show only white people. It becomes apparent, however, that the CCTV just bleaches everyone’s faces. The quality is indistinct. It’s impossible to tell if the defendants are there.
Two victims then give evidence, one after another. Everyone is given a choice of swearing on the bible or affirming they’re telling the truth. Both choose to affirm. Once each is sworn in, a few photocopied sheets are circulated with photos of their injuries.
Both were punched by their attackers and had to be taken to hospital. Brooks had stitches and staples. He remembers little of the evening, saying after he told the persistent cocaine sellers outside to f**k off, he has a vague recollection of an argument inside, then waking up among blood, police and paramedics. The paramedics shone a light in his eyes, repeatedly asking, “Matt, are you awake? Are you awake?” They had to do this for ten minutes.
Merrick can’t recall full details of the evening either. But he did remember trying to separate Matt Brooks from trouble inside the bar. He also remembers a barman asking what Brooks had said to wind up “those guys – they’re not normally aggressive.” Alas, in his police statement, the key fact that this witness was a barman was not mentioned.
Both Merrick and Brooks say they were merry but not overly drunk. “I’ve drunk that amount many times and never lost my memory,” Brooks says. “I was heavily concussed from the attack; that’s why I can’t remember everything.”
Smith ask Brooks how he knew he was being offered drugs.
“The man said, do you want to buy some coke?” Brooks says. “You don’t stand outside a bar offering to sell people Coca Cola. I knew it was drugs.”
Again, Smith tries to catch Brooks out. “You say when you were smoking outside you told them to f**k off, but you signed a police statement saying you told them to go away,” he says.
“I told the police I said F**k off,” Brooks asserts.
My jury service took place a month ago. Read more about it here – I posted a blog every day this week:
Note – all names have been changed