Thinking of the jury

Speaker's Corner
Thinking of the jury

Denise Horan

SINCE last week’s verdict in the Padraig Nally trial, there has been what might be described in cliched terms as ‘a media frenzy’. Television stations, radio stations and newspapers have all carried extensive coverage of the outcome, the likely legal fall-out, the reaction of the main parties involved, the reaction of politicians and representative groups, as well as wide-ranging comment.
The ordinary person watching, listening to or reading about the case and its aftermath will have taken a view one way or the other or will have seen the merits of both sides of the argument, will have desisted from forming a definite view and will have been happy with that decision. In spite of the wall-to-wall coverage over the last few days, most of us will have moved on by now, turning our thoughts quickly to more pressing matters like Christmas and flooding and work.
But what of the other main party to the proceedings of the last few weeks? The silent party, the nameless party: the jury. Has any of us given any thought to what it must be like to be walking in their shoes this week, to have lived in their skin for the last three weeks, to be facing into the future knowing what they have been part of?
So much hinges on the 12 jurors that determine the outcome of a trial and yet they fade into oblivion once it is over. Once their work is done, they are forgotten, as the rest of the country debates the merits and demerits of their decision and its repercussions. How do the eight men and four women who decided on Padraig Nally’s fate last week feel about the coverage their verdict has received? Are they angry? Do they want to scream at the television when they hear it being decried? Do they worry about the division it may cause between the settled and travelling communities? Do they have regrets? Have they had sleepless nights?
It is difficult to think of a more onerous position to be in that of juror in a trial for murder or manslaughter. To know that the fate of a defendant who many believe to have had right on his side lies in your hands is a heavy enough load to carry, but to have that coupled with the responsibility of discharging justice to the voiceless person who is dead must come close to being overwhelming. And to be told that you must set aside all prejudices (that you may have held all your life), that you must ignore all you have previously heard about the case and that you must decide with your head and not your heart is an incredible ask. Yet that is what was asked of the 12 people who sat on the jury bench in Court 3 of the Four Courts for a fortnight.
The judge in the original trial, Justice Paul Carney, had described it as the most difficult and socially-divisive case he had presided over in his 14 years on the bench. Armed with that knowledge, the jurors were asked to hear all the evidence again and make a decision on Padraig Nally’s future.
It is obvious from the length of their deliberations - almost 16 hours - that the verdict was not easily reached. They returned to the courtroom numerous times to ask for further directions from the judge and clarifications on evidence heard. The burden of all they had heard clearly weighed heavily, and what swung the decision in the end will never be known to the rest of us. But it will remain with them.
The intensity of an experience like that is surely unparalleled by any other life experience and not easily forgotten, yet the country has had no trouble forgetting them or the service they gave.
Given the gravity of the task, jury service ought to be presented better to the public. It ought to be presented as the serious and potentially life-altering role that it is. Instead, it is viewed as a chore by most people - and one that can be wriggled out of if it doesn’t suit. And that is because the State has never troubled itself with a campaign to highlight the serious nature of the vital civic duty that is jury service. How daunting then it must be for jurors, having no appreciation of the role and having no expectation of being appreciated for doing it, when they are warned in grave tones by an imposing-looking judge that they must leave all their prejudices at the door and decide on the most basic right of one human being - his liberty.