Jury duty at old Bailey - my experience of a trial in Court Nr. One


lady justice old bailey

I received my Jury summons in 2020 at the height of the pandemic and panicked immediately. We were being so careful and so worried about COVID, not going anywhere or seeing anyone for months and I really didn't want to take the tube everyday to sit in a crowded court room. So I postponed it after reearching if there was any way to completely get out of it, including calling our company employee helpline. But there wasn't. It's a civic duty and unless you fall in a very small number of exempt categories, you just have to bite the bullet and do it.

So this post will have nothing to do with food or cooking apart from a brief mention of my sourdough lunch sandwiches. But I thought I'd write about my experience, because maybe some people are curious about what happens during jury duty. I know I was when I got my summons.

I secretly of course wished that somehow they'd forget to call me back, but no such luck. Sometime during the summer the email arrived, that my jury duty would begin on Monday 23rd August. I wasn't very excited about this at all, it is quite inconvenient for anyone to have to get away from work and normal life for the minimum of two weeks, and some trials of course go on a lot longer. Also I was scared of being assigned to something really awful. Plus obviously the pandemic hasn't gone anywhere, but at least I'm now fully vaccinated.

But importantly I'm not sure if this really is the right way to do it, or is it just a little bit medieval. Should random people from the street be judging people, or should it be left to professionals with appropriate and adequate training. 

So feeling a bit annoyed and apprehensive I arrived at 9am on day one to be guided through security and told to get the lift to the third floor to register. It was all very slow and faffy, but by about 11am we were all registered and had filled in all the various forms (which could all have been done in advance) and we'd been given our induction.

Sometime around midday the first case was presented to us. A judge wearing a wig and a black gown came to explain a fatal stabbing which would take about 10 weeks. And there were loads of others, I assume the barristers, in wigs and robes as well. The judge read through names and places. If we were familiar with these  and were called we should notify the judge about it. She also explained that people would have a chance to tell her in the court room if they had a serious reason why they couldn't serve in that trial, like an inpatient hospital appointment or a booked and paid holiday.

Then names of people were called, probably around 30 names and off they all went. Some of the people rejoined our group later after not having been chosen for the jury.

The rest of us were dismissed for lunch and asked to return at 1.50pm

I went for a little walk outside and sat down at a small pretty square near St. Paul's Cathedral to eat the sandwich I’d brought with me. Cheese and cucumber on seeded sourdough bread, very nice it was too. And I caught up on some of the work emails.

In the afternoon another 10 week murder case was presented to us, a shooting with 5 defendants. The judge asked us to fill in a form with any reason that we had that meant we couldn’t serve 10 weeks.

Many of us including me filled in the form and eventually they were collected. Nothing else happened all afternoon and at around 4pm they came back and told us the judge hadn’t made any decisions yet and asked us to return for 10am start the following day. By this time I had Lean Six Sigmaed the whole process in my head an come up with improvements that would save the system millions every year. At the end of the two weeks I would hand it to an impressed and grateful judge or some other court official.  

This reminded me of the time some years ago I reorganised the taxi queueing system at Paris Gare du Nord. I'm not sure if they are still following my system, but for their own good I hope they are. 

The following morning they asked if there were any additional notes after people had had time to think, so some of us did. I did an additional note regarding why I can’t serve for 10 weeks. Off they went with the notes again, only to come back an hour later to ask for clarification from some individuals. 

At this point I was starting to fume. This one judge had held us hostage for the whole of the previous afternoon and this morning. She could have done what the first judge with the 10 week case did and called names into the courtroom and then directly heard if anyone had a serious reason why they couldn’t attend such a long trial, but instead this one chose to play with paper notes and take hours to decide whether she accepted those or not. Outrageous arrogance and disregard and disrespect of people's time.

Finally at around 12.30 pm the clerk came out and started to read out a list of names. My name was called and I thought my reason to decline the 10 week trial had not been accepted by the judge and I may spontaneously have uttered a not very nice word. We were all then lead to another floor and told that there was another trial starting this afternoon that would be a lot shorter. Phew - not sure why they have to do it that way and cause a near heart attack, rather that say "I am going to call out names that will be taken to another, shorter case because these people have reasons why they can't serve in this long case". 

I could have cried out of relief. I think I probably did a little. A lovely lady usher came to introduce herself. She was Jo, the usher to Court Number One. She chatted to us in her very animated way which we'd get to know well during the next couple of weeks. Another half an hour later a male judge in black and red robes came to talk to us flanked by several robed and wigged barristers for both defence and prosecution. I thought he must be something special with his fancy robes, everyone else was wearing a black gown and I later learned that indeed he was the big cheese, the Recorder of London and the senior judge at Old Bailey, His Honour Judge Mark Lucraft QC.

He started with giving us a little speech about how this is an important public duty and he talked us through the COVID measures that they had in place. He didn’t explain about the case other than confirmed that it would not take longer than two weeks and two days in the worst case, probably we'd be done in two weeks. And again they read out names and places. In case we were to be called we should tell him in the courtroom if we recognised any of them. And he advertised his Court Number One as the legendary court room that had seen the most important cases since this building came to be in 1907. He also sounded really approachable, and friendly and warm. So I got quite excited and hoped I would be called to join the jury on his case obviously hoping it would not be mutilation or torture of something awful, but thought it was unlikely for such a short case.

We were then dismissed for an hour’s lunch break. I had to appreciate how civilized this all was when normally at work I have to choose between a wee and making a coffee vs trying to eat something in the few minutes I have between meetings. I have invested in a wireless headset, which has improved my quality of life no end because now I can do some of these things while still on a call. 

But appreciating this I again decided to have my lunch outside, walking to find a bench to have my sourdough cheese and cucumber sandwich on, I know what I like so why change it.

Old Bailey 

old bailey

I'm not going to explain the whole history of the place, there's lots of interesting information easily available online. But a criminal court has stood there for hundreds of years, there are references to a medieval court in 1585, which was destroyed in the great fire in 1666. A new building was commissioned in 1673. It has been remodelled and rebuilt several times since and the notorious Newgate prison it used to serve has since been demolished. 

The Old Bailey today is not really that Old. And anyway the name comes from the street it's on, a boundary wall, bailey, of the ancient City of London, rather than being reference to the building itself. The current old part of the building was built in early 20th century and officially opened by King Edward VII in 1907. The new part was added in the early 1970s. 

In the first couple of days I only saw the depressing and drab, as is typical to the architecture of that period, new side of the courthouse, and only in the afternoon of the second day was I taken to the absolutely glorious, magnificent halls of the old building. We weren't allowed to take photographs sadly, but here are some I found online. 

interior old bailey

interior old bailey

interior old bailey

It is just exquisite with stained glass windows, painted ceilings, cupolas, arches, statues, marble. Every morning I'd walk past the statue of the prison reformist Elizabeth Fry (to the right in the image above) my Sketchers squeaking on the Sicilian marble floors on my way to Court Nr. Two - our jury break room feeling proud, privileged and insignificant in equal measure.  

Court Nr Two Old Bailey
Court Number Two - this became the high security court with its raised perspex screens around the dock and many of the 1970s and 1980s IRA trials were held here. Unfortunately I couldn't find a picture of the imposing dock. For your information, during our breaks and deliberation I was sat next to were the red robed clerk of the court is in this picture, just below the judge. I did also try the judge's chair obviously - who wouldn't. I am a tall girl and my feet barely touched the floor. It is big,

Court Nr. One

Court Nr One Old Bailey

Court Nr One Old Bailey
I sat right under that clock in the middle of the back row. The actual jury box is opposite these rows, but due to COVID we were spread out here to allow for social distancing. Above us is the public gallery where apparently the defendant's parents were sat all week, I didn't see them because I was right underneath the gallery. 

This used to be the main court room in the building, this was where a lot of the high profile cases were tried. This is where the Soham child murderer Ian Huntley and his evil side kick Maxine Carr sat in the dock, as did the Yorkshire Ripper, Dennis Nilsen, the Kray brothers and Dr Crippen. The Stephen Lawrence murder prosecution of 5 men was held here in 1993 as well as the conviction of Barry George for the 1999 murder of the TV presenter Jill Dando. This room is where the Royal Butler Paul Burrell's case for allegedly stealing valuables belonging to the late Diana, Princess of Wales, collapsed, when the Queen herself confirmed she had been told by Burrell that he was taking some of Diana's possessions into safekeeping. 

But apparently recently some of the more modern and comfortable court rooms with more leg space and more comfortable seats are sometimes favoured. And with my first hand experience I get it, after a couple of days my back was hurting and I was actually limping with sciatica. Which I do sometimes get anyway, but the benches were not particularly ergonomic. 

But it is also magnificent with the huge chairs for the judge and his potential cronies, the dock and just the sheer amount of stained oak, green leather and the arched and skylighted ceiling.

The defendant's box, the dock, is actually quite a scary looking thing. It's not like in US court dramas, where the defendant sits behind a desk with their counsel. This is an elevated wooden enclosure, a room within a room, the defendant is at the same level almost with the judge encircled by wooden walls on all sides and a perspex screen surrounding them. There are stairs down straight to the holding cells from the dock, so apart from if they take the witness box to testify, they never see any other view of the beautiful Old Bailey. Locked within the elevated dock with walls and glass surrounding them on all sides there is no question of who is at the center of the proceedings here. There have actually been some comments lately suggesting that this set-up contradicts the "innocent until proven guilty" philosophy and may psychologically impact the jurors' thinking. 

The Dock at Court Nr One Old Bailey
The dock of Court Number One

In the Court Nr 2 which was our break area - due to COVID they gave us these bigger spaces as break and deliberation rooms, the dock was even scarier. Court 2 is the high security court and the perspex walls of the box are sky high. I peeked in and saw the stairs leading to a very simply and sterilely tiled hallway leading to the holding cells. You could see how different the experience in the lower floors at the bowels of the building would be to where we were. No allegorical wall paintings, marble floors or stained glass windows down below, I fear. 
Stairs to the holding cells from Court Nr. 2. 

Because of COVID the jury was spread out on the benches of the former City Lands Committee (8) whoever they are and the Counsel rows (4). Barristers for both sides were sat in the Jury Box. 

Getting on a case

Coming back from lunch I was really itching to join this guy in his fancy Court Number One.  I also knew that if I didn’t get chosen, I’d come back the following morning to wait for another case. So there were more notes to the judge and the lively Usher Jo keeping us up-to-date as to what was going on. It was after 3pm when Jo came out and called out about 25 names – they were the ones excluded – not sure what happened to them. Probably dismissed and asked to come back the next day. And we were still about 20 people left in the room. Jo told us that she would soon start calling in the chosen 12 one by one and she explained about the swearing in and checked that we were all happy with the holy books available. Then she disappeared to the courtroom. 

After a while she came out and called the first name, and more names one at a time. I lost count and started to think they must have enough already. But then she came out and called my name. She showed me where to stand in front of the judge and the judge asked me to confirm my name and then asked me a couple of questions, whether the dates of this trial worked for me as it might go over the 2 weeks period by a couple of days, and he asked about the names and places that have been listed and if I knew any of them. I answered him with squared shoulders and my best Jane Austen English, "Indeed I do not, My Lord", not sure why, but there you go. Anyway, My Lord (or My Lady for the female judges) is how the judges in Crown Court should be addressed, so why not. And then he asked me to remove my mask and look at the defendant to see if I recognised him and if he recognised me. 

In the dock there was a nice looking very pale young man in a crisp suit standing looking at me. And I thought, oh my God, what can you have done to end up here. I told the judge I didn’t recognise him, and he said he didn’t recognise me and Jo showed me to my seat next to my fellow jurors. 

Some more jurors were called in, One of them didn’t seem to understand the judge's questions which to me kind of proved a little bit that my concerns about the jury system are not completely unfounded. But maybe the guy was just nervous. I would learn later if he really didn’t speak much English or just had a bit of a silly moment there.  (He really turned out to be a bit of a disaster)

"I swear by almighty God that I will faithfully try the defendant and give a true verdict according to the evidence."

Once there were 12 of us we were all individually sworn in. Each of us stood up in turn and either did the religious oath, holding a bible or koran or another chosen holy book (for Christians we actually had the New Testament rather than the bible, which for me works better anyway, because the Old Testament is kind of - how should I put it - full of shit) or you could do the secular affirmation without a holy book.

So it began. We were introduced to the indictment and the counts against the young man. I didn't really know what to expect, but I was very surprised to hear he was there accused of planning terrorist attacks and disseminating illegal far-right and neo-nazi literature. 

I'm not going to go into any detail about the case itself. Although I am allowed to discuss it now directly with people apart from what went on in the deliberation room in the hours of trying to reach the verdict, social media comments about the case are not allowed. Although of course there are loads. But I'm not going to be one of those people. I'll just focus on the the proceedings generally and the experience of it.  

It started with the judge going through some documents with us, explaining the charges and our job as jury. After that the prosecution started presenting it's case, As it was quite late in the afternoon, we didn’t get very far before we were adjourned until the following morning.

The normal court hours are 10am to 1pm, then an hour's lunch and back at 2pm to usually finish at around 4.15/ 4.20pm with a 15 minute break in the morning and the afternoon, which usually stretches to close to 20-30 minutes, so it's not especially hard work to be honest for us jurors, but I do appreciate the judge and the barristers have stuff to prepare during the breaks. I didn't see them in the little park with sourdough sandwiches taking pictures of St. Paul's.    

So the next couple of days we were instructed to come in by 9.45am, so that we could start promptly at 10am. It almost never happened, many times it was because Anthony, one of the jurors, was late, but also sometimes the court wasn't ready, there might have been a legal debate, which the jury is not allowed to hear, or maybe the defendant was stuck in traffic in transit from the prison to the courthouse, who knows. Then we'd get our 2 minute warning,  during which you are supposed to switch off your electronic devices, go to the loo and do what ever you needed to do to be ready in two minutes. 

Then the Usher would ask us to line up in the corridor behind our break room in the order we'd enter the jury benches. Obviously Anthony would be in the loo or in some other way AWOL at this point so we'd have to wait a bit. The Usher would march us to the bench door of Court Number One and announce to the court "Jury entering Court" and we'd take our places. 

We continued on the prosecution's case including their main witness, the counter-terrorist detective on the case throughout day 3. On day four the start was delayed again, so we had an extra half an hour to wait and I got chatting to a couple of my fellow jurors. I hadn't really spoken to many of them much because I had to use all my breaks to catch up with work. I spoke to this nice respiratory nurse specialist with whom we had an interesting intubation vs. non-invasive ventilation chat. There were two students, one guy, Young Will we called him, because he was young and his name was Will, studying sports erm... something, rehabilitation maybe. I spoke to him earlier so he knew I was Finnish. He asked about my skiing ability and if I had any interesting skiing related injuries, which to his disappointment I didn't have. I do have a dodgy knee which makes a fantastic cracking sound when I straighten my leg, but I thought I'd save that maybe for a later date. 

And there was a very nice, bright young lady, Kate, that I'd only briefly spoken to before. She told me she was studying History of Art in a university somewhere near Kings Cross and that she lives in Islington. So we spoke about the area – I used to live there for a couple of years ages ago. I didn't actually really like Islington, but for the purposes of this conversation I pretended I did. I was probably already too old for the area when I lived there. 

By the time we finished on Thursday we were still on prosecution's case. We finished on time a little after 4pm and I happily rushed home and immediately changed into my trackie pants and was just thinking whether a glass of wine on the sofa was going to be in order, when a message came from my friend that he was on time and would see me soon. I had completely forgotten that we'd booked a table for dinner in the lovely Sabor tapas restaurant near Piccadilly. Never mind, back to normal clothes, touch up of make-up and hair, hop on the tube and I wasn't even badly late. Since my friend normally is late for everything he didn't really have a leg to stand on and just found it slightly amusing. We had a fab dinner, food there was absolutely amazing, it's not the cheapest, but I can thoroughly recommend for  special occasion or if you've got the funds, for any occasion.  

Sabor menu - Tapas restaurant London

Sabor Tapas restaurant

On  Friday I arrived with 2 minutes to spare and out of breath only to find out that one of the other jurors, the nice respiratory nurse, had phoned in ill and we were then dismissed for the day, to come back on Tuesday after the bank holiday to see if she would be better and we could have a full jury, which always is better.

On Tuesday morning the news was that our fellow Juror had been tested positive for COVID and wouldn't be joining our ranks. We'd go on as a jury of 11.

I was a little concerned that the juror sitting next to me didn’t seem to have a clue where he was supposed to be in the folders most of the time. We had these two large folders that we were supposed to follow and the barristers gave very clear instructions as to which folder you were supposed to be looking at and what page and paragraph. But no, Terry, my man, kept randomly shuffling his folders which made it a bit hard at times for me to hear what was being said. I did try to shush him a couple of times or whisper the page numbers to him, but to no avail. 

We were presented with some video footage which made a break from shuffling the folders. And then we moved on to the defence case. The defendant gave evidence and was cross-examined by prosecution. We then heard from a couple of character witnesses in court and also 3 more statements were read to us.

By Thursday we'd reached the stage of prosecution's closing speech. He was very clear, detail oriented and persevering like a little terrier, he was very small and compact and had questioned the defendant in a lot of detail, but not to the point of turning us off. He would say things like "Mr X (defendant) Are you lying?" Or at times when the defendant said something he might say "But that's not true, is it" or That's a lie, isn't it" and then he would lead us back to the folders to show why it was a lie. 

But the whole thing is much more gentlemanly, if that's the right word, than the US based TV court dramas. There is no banging of gavel. There is actually no gavel! There are no shouts of Objection! Sustained! Overruled! Your Honour!! If the barrister for either side had anything to say they just stood up and the other side shut up, let them talk and the judge then gave direction or made a comment if needed. All very calm and measured. No throwing of wigs, which apparently cost over 600 pounds, as Young Will discovered for us. And they really call each other "my learned friend". 

On our second Friday we knew we would start the jury deliberations. In the morning we had the defence closing speech and then the judge summarised both the prosecution's case and the defence's case for the jury while Terry was not listening but going through his folder with his highlighter pen doing God knows what. And then the Judge gave us some direction as to the law, but not direction as "I reckon he's guilty folks".

So just before we would have broken for lunch we left the courtroom and retired into our deliberation room, still the Court Number Two. We weren't locked in as the loos were across the hallway, but Jo the Usher would guard outside so that no one else had access to the room and none of us left it other than for a loo visit.

So then we chose the foreman. Someone asked if anyone wanted to volunteer and I bit my tongue, because I really wanted to volunteer, because I am a bit bossy like that sadly. But I thought it might be better if it was someone who was a bit more on the fence. I was absolutely clear which way I would vote. I can also be a bit of a campaigner, if I believe in something so I thought I would be happier afterwards if I could feel I hadn't influenced anyone's thinking too heavily. So this Australian guy volunteered and we all agreed that he should do it. He was a bit laid back as could maybe have been expected and not very assertive so before too long I nominated myself without particularly mentioning it to anyone as his more organised unofficial side kick - we'd still be faffing around with who wants lunch when and could Jo go and microwave this pasta and should we have a cigarette break and maybe we should first put the kettle on, if it wasn't for me. I made sure we all stayed focused and we all had one conversation rather that separate individual chaotic chats around the room etc. Anyway, we are absolutely forbidden to talk about the deliberations, so the only thing I can say is that we took about three and a half hours to reach the unanimous verdict. Our foreman then went to Jo and Jo went to get the court back together and in we went taking our seats for the very last time.

Court nr one old bailey

That last bit was short, the court clerk asked our foreman to stand up and she then asked him, if we had reached a unanimous verdict and what the verdict was. And our foreman answered Yes and Guilty. The judge thanked us very nicely for our service (as if we'd volunteered, I always feel like this when people thank you for something you actually don't have any control over or didn't choose, like when a flight is delayed and the flight attendant announces a "thank you for your patience". Mostly in those situations I'm not patient at all, quite the opposite. But I did like the judge and had huge respect for the work that he does and also I do live in this country and must abide by its laws. At least until I think they are completely nuts.  

We were ushered back to Court Nr. 2 to fill in some forms, to submit our expenses and to be released and we said our goodbyes and left the building.

Afterwards on my home I felt quite flat. I felt ok with my part, I had listened to all the evidence very carefully, taken notes so that I actually had a little blister in my right hand ring finger, because of course nowadays we don't write much, we just type. I had painstakingly highlighted the key bits in our jury folders that I felt were the crucial points linked to what our decision was about. And I had stuck to my notes and I stuck to the facts and the evidence in my decision not speculation, not thinking about it emotionally, but logically and rationally.

As a result of this experience I have more faith in the jury trial system. I still don't think it's right. It is costly and inefficient. But mainly I think it's emotionally sometimes too much for a normal person to sit these trials, otherwise we probably wouldn't have been referred to Samaritans on our day one. I think it's too much to ask in some cases. This particular one wasn't. I feel I owe enough to this country and community to give two weeks of my life to do this, the case was sad, but not something that a normal person can't emotionally handle.

But there are cases that are too harrowing. A colleague of mine had to sit a paedophile case and he needed counceling afterwards to get through the trauma. I don't think that's right. 

I also think there should be some checks as to people intellectual capability and command of English, some basic checks to make sure they will be able to follow a potentially long and complicated trial and understand what is being said. Our laid back foreman told that his wife had once sat in a 2 month trial about VAT fraud. This must have been not only super boring, but also potentially technically complicated.

But I also saw that all my fellow jurors took this responsibility very seriously, even Terry who maybe didn't always know exactly were we were in the folders. We may have had different methods, but in the end the differences of opinion weren't that big and as long as we kept going back to the evidence and the facts and kept it clear in our minds what the question to us was, we really weren't that far apart.

I hope I don't have to do it again, because there are no guarantees of what sort of a case I would get, but I'm glad I got the opportunity to do it once. 

In October the defendant was sentenced to 11 years and 4 months in prison. 

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  1. Fascinating stuff. I'm a solicitor so don't think I can serve on a jury. I've always sort of wanted to though. If I had to, the Old Bailey would be the place for it!!

    1. Yes you can Lesley. I am a solicitor with a current practising certificate and a full time job, I came to this article as I have just received a summons.

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  3. Thank you for this, about the only place I could find any information. It's really appreciated. I am concerned about the start time as my journey will be about 90 minutes, and what happens if I get there late. Can you also get compensation for events etc that you had already paid for but which you now cannot attend

    1. Hi - Sorry, just saw this now. I don't really know if you can get compensation, but it is worth asking, I had to travel by taxi a couple of times and they reimbursed me for it. I think in your papers there is a contact somewhere where you can ask. If you are running late just call the usher, you will be given his / her contact. The court will actually wait until the jury is there, like we had to wait on occasion for Anthony :) Good luck - it is an interesting experience. I really was apprehensive and even unhappy to have to do it, but glad in the end I got the chance!

  4. Thank you so much for the informative and amusing article. I read it with particular interest as I have been called for jury service and will be attending in a few weeks.

  5. This was very interesting and helpful- Thank you. Could you possibly explain a bit more about the reasons people were allowed to be excused from the 10 week trial. I’m quite anxious about being asked to do a long trial as I’m newly self employed and it would cripple my business. Along with some other personal reasons.

    1. Apologies for the delay in reply - not so active with the blog in the last couple of years, but will answer in case anyone finds it useful. Being self-employed would be taken into account, you could get some compensation for loss of income, and I believe be exempt from longer trials. Other reasons are already booked and paid holidays, exams or in-patient hospital appointments / operations, possibly things like being a carer etc. My reason I couldn't do a 10 week trial was an already booked flight to visit my dad who was very ill at the time.