Approximately two decades ago, I did my first stint of jury service – an experience both intriguing and somewhat chaotic.

My reflection on the system leans toward scepticism and a firm belief that it is unjust to jurors and in dire need of reform. Labour please note!

Recently summoned to Wood Green Crown Court for jury duty, I found myself compelled to seek exemption.

Running three businesses, actively participating in community initiatives, and balancing the responsibilities of raising a seven-year-old son, not to mention volunteering to speak in schools on neurodiversity – all of these commitments rendered the prospect of being absent from my professional life for 10 working days a significant disruption.

While I value my role as a responsible citizen, it seems incongruous that others, perhaps more willing or with different circumstances, couldn't take their turn in the jury box.

The current jury system strikes me as draconian, antiquated, unyielding, and indifferent to the potential negative impact on individuals' lives. It is legally compulsory for all except Members of Parliament and doctors. It appears far from equitable for the common citizen in our supposedly free nation.

Ham & High: Chris Arnold says that jury service is unfairChris Arnold says that jury service is unfair (Image: Chris Arnold)

Sitting through hours of legal proceedings, enduring boredom and restlessness, absorbing evidence and denials, the jury process lacks a nuanced evaluation of individuals' aptitude for decoding complex facts. Sharp minds are essential, yet, regrettably, many I encountered hardly represented the sharpest pencils in the set.

As the deliberations unfolded, the flaws in assembling 12 ordinary individuals became starkly evident. If you ever listened to Tony Hancock’s ’12 Angry Men’ comedy sketch, you’ll understand.

Divergent perspectives, varying levels of persuadibility, inconsistent recall of facts, and even unconscious biases against the police or presumptions of guilt based on appearance permeated our discussions.

The discontent among fellow jurors was palpable. For some, self-employed and losing money during this civic duty, the financial toll eclipsed the gravity of the trial itself. One juror astutely asked "Trying someone for stealing £250 while I'm losing £300 a day – isn't that a bigger crime?" The meagre compensation of £65 per day paled in comparison to the £300 per hour earned by a barrister, underscoring a glaring injustice.

Drawing on my expertise in marketing and understanding human psychology, I advocate for a fundamental shift in the jury selection process. Trained professionals, chosen through a more thoughtful profiling of jurors, could replace the current arbitrary system.

As it stands, the process resembles a lottery, where one influential voice can sway the entire jury, especially as fatigue sets in and a unanimous desire to go home prevails. Forcing individuals into this role against their will hardly fosters enthusiasm or commitment to delivering justice.

In essence, it is time to drag the jury service into the modern era. Reforms should aim for fairness, not only for those facing trial but also for the individuals compelled to serve as jurors. 

  • Chris Arnold is co-founder and director of the Crouch End Festival.