Monday, March 14, 2011

Secrets of the Jury Room

Secrets of the Jury Room: Inside the Black Box of Criminal Justice in AustraliaSecrets of the Jury Room: Inside the Black Box of Criminal Justice in Australia by Malcolm Knox

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This book came from one of those shops furnished with cardboard boxes full of the same 3 books that make you question the sanity (or sense of humour) of the creep in charge of giving manuscripts the ok. Biographies of reality TV stars from the UK circa 2002, family encyclopaedias of garden sourced home remedies, joke books. And ‘Secrets of the Jury Room’, plastered as it is with endorsements from QCs.

‘Secrets of the Jury Room’ looks at the role of juries in the Australian legal system, with discussions and evaluations of surveys of jurors that have been undertaken. The book follows a case in which Knox served as a juror, albeit with enough details and names changed as to make it untraceable. The case, as it appears in the book, is interesting enough to justify the length of the book, and give it pace enough to allow the examination of these issues.

It’s a light read, which throws up some interesting issues. How much power rests with the jury, and in the end, how much power rests with the juror with the loudest voice. What it’s like to serve on a jury, down to the stodgy hot food and reading on the train to the city. It’s an interesting insight into jury duty, and group dynamics under strange circumstances.

The importance of having community attitudes and values represented, and conveying to a jury the issues that they are to decide on. Or more importantly, those that they aren’t placed to adjudicate. The people that are on juries, those that manage to avoid it, and the slither of society that it ends up representing.

I was particularly interested in the issues around the interaction between the jury and lawyers. The second guessing, focusing on the clear ‘leader, the winks and nudges vs avoidance of eye contact. The tactics, and the complete mystery that juries are to lawyers. The way that jurors are able to be so powerful but in some cases are treated with little more than contempt. The way judges are held in such high esteem, and the way people act when put in such a clear role, with clear boundaries and expectations.

Given the 3 strikes it came with, it was ok. Shrug.

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