this (du­ti­ful) life

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents - Anna LS Gar­cia Re­view wel­comes sub­mis­sions to This Life. To be con­sid­ered for pub­li­ca­tion, the work must be orig­i­nal and be­tween 420 and 450 words. Sub­mis­sions may be edited for clar­ity. Send emails to thislife@theaus­tralian.com.au

“DOES any­one have a prob­lem with man­slaugh­ter?” we are asked. After one morn­ing of ori­en­ta­tion, a quick visit to a court­room and a swear­ing-in, we are ready for jury duty.

We re­port as di­rected by a daily text mes­sage. We turn off our phones and follow the sher­iff’s of­fi­cer to the court­room.

Judge, lawyers, sher­iffs, court re­porters and the ac­cused are all wait­ing for us. The charges are read and the ac­cused moves to the dock; he is re­mark­ably young.

The judge in­structs us to lis­ten to a list of names of pos­si­ble wit­nesses. Do we recog­nise any of the names?

It’s time for se­lec­tion. The judge’s as­sis­tant pulls tick­ets out of a big wooden box, filled with our as­signed jury num­bers. One by one, when our num­bers are called, we stand up and walk across the court­room to­wards the jury box. Twice the de­fence lawyer calls “chal­lenge!” and the po­ten­tial ju­ror re­turns to their seat; re­jected, re­lieved. My num­ber is called. I am not chal­lenged. Now the jury is full. The judge ex­cuses the rest, and the case be­gins.

It feels like we have sud­denly stepped into a tele­vi­sion show. The lawyers wear strange wigs and robes. The lan­guage is for­mal, and the rules are strict.

Soon we are on a bus to view the crime scene. It is all so far away from our every­day lives. We hur­riedly make phone calls to work and fam­ily. “I’m on a jury,” we tell them, and that is all we can say.

Over the days that follow, we are told a story in a to­tally un­fa­mil­iar fash­ion; with no back­ground in­for­ma­tion and never know­ing what’s com­ing next.

The court­room is al­ways full. Sev­eral times each day, we silently file in, all eyes on us, to sit and lis­ten.

Many of us are com­ing in from a long way away and are not used to the city com­mute, but the trial can­not start un­til we are all there, so we are never late.

We de­lib­er­ate for four hours be­fore fil­ing into court for the last time. Our foreper­son de­liv­ers the ver­dict.

The court­room is filled with a mix­ture of screams and gasps.

The judge thanks us for our ser­vice and we are ex­cused. It is late. We are told to wait in the jury room un­til ev­ery­one has gone, then we are taken out a dif­fer­ent exit and given es­corts to cars or taxis.

We all re­turn to our homes and try to make sense of what has just hap­pened.

A week later, and I’m back in the jury pool room for another case. “Does any­one have a prob­lem with break and en­ter?”

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