This fictional account of the experience of a juror is both a meditation and a critique of the true motivations, dynamics and mechanics of the English legal system with its self-proclamation of being the best in the world
Day one – Malaise
At the start of the trial, as the judge welcomed the jury and hailed it as the gold standard of all legal systems, my only thought was that the defendant was not the only person at court that day against their will. Of course, I understood what he meant: judgement by twelve of one’s randomly-selected peers acts as a safeguard from the vagaries of authoritarian arbiters. I also happen to agree with the rule of law, I’m not an anarchist after all, and I’m well aware that I enjoy the privilege of living in a so-called “free society”. None of this alters the fact that I didn’t want to be there. The trite thankyou to the jury for giving up our time was as devoid of meaning as if he had thanked us for having been born: we had had no choice in that matter either. I wasn’t angry with him though, perhaps ambivalent at most; I understood that he was just being polite although I also understood the subtext. This was clear. Jury service was our civic duty and a small price to pay for the protection bestowed upon us by the law. My objection to it is impossible to justify so I won’t even try, I simply resented the state for coercing me into this situation: I didn’t wake up on the morning of the trial, asking to confront an ethical dilemma which would haunt me for years to come. Only the week before I had been free, today I was bound by the chains of my society which was forcing me to engage actively in this process. Did this selfish instinct make me a person lacking in virtue? Perhaps. While wallowing in my own self-pity I unexpectedly recalled the line about letting ‘he who is without sin cast the first stone’ from John’s Gospel and was comforted by this biblical counterpoint which seemed to justify my nascent resentment. Who was I to be judging this woman? Who were any of us? I scanned the benches and immediately began inventing false narratives about each and every one of the jurors which proved them all to be equally unfit to judge: there was the drinker, the whore, the sinner. That kind of thing. My inner monologue was interrupted by the sudden realization that, despite my atheism, I had just been comforted by scripture.
» Is justice synonymous with power? Are we all equal in the eyes of the law? I could feel myself falling down the rabbit hole of contemplation.»
After taking my seat I absorbed my surroundings and lay eyes on the defendant. She wore a thick hand-knitted cardigan with a woven sunflower on the lapel, dark trousers and brown boots; her nervous habit of interlocking the fingers of both hands while constantly looping one thumb over the other resembled the reel of a combine harvester. She was a petite fifty seven year old woman with short greying hair and kind, maternal eyes which pierced my soul with every sideways imploring glance. She sat in the dock of the Crown Court behind a large pane of acrylic glass. Directly in front of her, on a raised platform, sat the judge beneath a large royal coat of arms with its old French motto Dieu et mon droit emblazoned on the wall in dignified golden characters. As I finished thumbing through the papers on my desk from back to front I landed on the front page which read REX vs JANE LITTLE. I tried to imagine the intense pressure which the defendant must have felt at the thought of engaging in a judicial battle, not only with the king himself but with his ‘divine right’ to boot. How small must Jane Little have felt at that moment? Her petite frame barely filled her chair let alone the dock in its entirety and it was a struggle to conceive of a lonelier place on earth than hers in that moment. The defendant clasped her hands together and began rolling her thumbs in a continuous loop while staring into the middle distance. Her eyes betrayed a kind of stoical acceptance of proceedings when the prosecuting barrister stood up to make the case against her. Beneath the wig and gown was a diminutive woman in her early to mid thirties with no distinguishing features, a mere street-level bureaucrat operating within the leviathan that is English law. Her setting out of the case lacked the slick, fluent oratorical skills which I had been falsely led to believe were the norm by the countless courtroom dramas of popular culture; her erratic staccato ramblings were punctuated by technical difficulties with the Crown Court’s Digital Case System meaning that we, the jurors, were unable to view all of the video evidence in the correct order. Ciceronian rhetoric, this was not. In fact, I was struck by just how prosaic proceedings of such importance could be; the banality of it all was astonishing.
Despite my emerging antipathy towards the prosecuting barrister I immediately understood that this was going to be an open and shut case: Jane Little’s guilt was so clear that I began to look forward excitedly to the next day when the defence barrister would seek to defend the seemingly indefensible. Perhaps a bit of excitement was to be the reward for my enforced labour, or should that be civic duty? For now though, I would have to endure yet more evidence for the prosecution: yet more high resolution video footage showing Jane Little and three accomplices daub red paint and spray oil-based acrylic through stencils on the outer walls of a foreign embassy in London; yet more evidence of Jane Little glueing her left hand to the entrance of the embassy while offering a twelve minute interview with a journalist outlining her means, motives and opportunity. With each additional nail in Jane Little’s coffin, my appetite for hearing her defence was increasingly whetted. Court adjourned.
Day two – Power and authority
The next day I arrived at the courtroom half an hour early, sipped my black sugarless coffee and eagerly anticipated hearing from the defence barrister. He was a middle aged Englishman of medium build and an upper-middle-class manner of speaking; he spoke with a paused, unhurried confidence which I imagined emanated from his brilliant legal mind coupled with well-honed oratorical skills, all corroborated by the symbolic authority bestowed by the wig and gown. I finished my coffee and decided to kill some time – twenty minutes or so – by reading my battered old copy of Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War. It was an old university text which I probably hadn’t done justice to as a young man and reading it now felt like atoning for the academic sins of my past; anyway, I had already waded through some of the drier chapters and was now engrossed in a story depicting the dispute between the mighty naval force of Athens and the small, vulnerable island of Melos. It was the sixteenth year of Athens’ conflict with Sparta and the Melians were employing reason, appealing to justice in their plea to be allowed to continue remaining neutral. Athens reminded them of the staggering superiority of the Athenian military before informing them that “justice depends on the equality of power to compel” and that “the strong do what they have the power to do and the weak accept what they have to accept”. Owing to the significant power imbalance in favour of Athens, Melos was in no position to try to reason and simply had to accept its lot. I placed the open book on my lap and had just paused to contemplate the ramifications of this line of argument when the court usher approached, instructing us to enter the courtroom in number order. I was juror number ten.
The defence barrister proceeded to ask Jane Little a series of questions which provoked a deluge of intriguing responses relating to fields as diverse as ethics, morality and international geopolitics. I was on tenterhooks in anticipation of the discussions in the deliberation room that Jane Little’s responses would inevitably arouse; my hopes were quickly dashed, however, when they were subsequently struck from the record by the judge, deemed as inadmissible owing to their irrelevance in relation to the charge. A pregnant pause ensued. – No further questions, your honour. – Damn! Was that it? Was that the defence? Really? The barrister’s apparent lack of a plan B sounded the death knell of my already moribund faith in the legal profession, however he did later go on to invite the defendant to speak and this, as it turned out, would be the high point of the trial. There was much that we now knew regarding Jane Little’s motivations – although it could form no part of our deliberation – for example, the embassy belonged to a large country with a rainforest as well as strong commercial ties to the UK and it was led by the government of a radical rightwing populist and military-dictatorship apologist. Jane Little stood accused of criminal damage, more specifically of the heinous crime of having attacked a building, replete with spray cans and red paint as a protest against the president’s incitement to genocide and destruction of the rainforest which would contribute to a two degree rise in global temperatures: this, a recent international scientific report had stated, would cause irreparable damage to the planet. None of this, however, mattered one jot. Court adjourned.
Day three – Contemplation
These facts were racing through my mind the following morning as I reclined in the hard-cushioned front-facing seat in a middle carriage of the train that was taking me to court while absent-mindedly gazing through the window. My eyes were fixed on the outer edge of an indecipherable word deliberately scratched onto the window: this enabled me to passively observe the world racing backwards, a series of graffiti-clad buildings, bridges and shopfronts hurtled towards the rear of my field of vision as the train pressed forward at speed. I was impressed by the unfathomable position of some of the graffiti. How on earth had the artists reached the lower portion of the bridge while avoiding certain death? More to the point, were they artists or vandals? Who gets to judge taste? I began to wonder how many of these artists-cum-vandals had ever faced a jury? Pause. Opposite me sits a small child on her mother’s lap; she can’t be older than 18 months; she has very curly black afro hair, dark eyes and skin and a smile so intensely beautiful that it instantly disarms me and ruptures my train of thought. – She’s beautiful – the words escape my lips, as if uttered by some extraneous force. – Thank you so much – the mother’s eyes beam a smile of joyful maternal pride. Back to my thoughts. Different ones now. Would Athens allow Melos to remain neutral? Would Athens annihilate Melos? Is justice synonymous with power? Are we all equal in the eyes of the law? I could feel myself falling down the rabbit hole of contemplation. More contemplation, punctuated only by a huge red billboard adorned with two golden arches and the phrase «I’m loving it» which invited me to yearn for an affordable piece of processed beef thrown haphazardly between two seeded buns by an underpaid adolescent. With fries. Was there time? I had to be at court by ten o’clock. Why had the state deemed this particular visual stimulus to be legal but the street art criminal? I judged both equally as guilty of having interrupted my enjoyment of the urban landscape, and my powers of judgement had been validated by the state from the moment it summoned me to act as juror. These unanswerable musings eventually turned to thinking about Jane Little and the reasons that she would seek to employ in her attempt to convince me and my fellow jurors of her innocence.
Day three – Rhetoric
Moments after ten o’clock Jane Little took the stand. To my surprise, her kind, maternal visage had taken on an altogether unfamiliar demeanour: she now seemed possessed by an equal measure of steely determination and melancholy. She began her defence, which centred not so much on her own actions but on the misdeeds of the radical rightwing populist and military-dictatorship apologist with whom she had a grievance: she did this knowing full well that it would be entirely inadmissible:
– Members of the jury, will we ever see the wood for the trees? I mean, in heaven’s name, how long are we going to allow this populist to test our collective patience? How long are we going to just stand there and watch, and allow his utter madness to toy around with us? When is that unbridled effrontery of his ever going to stop vaunting itself? … Are you – members of the jury – not in the least bit taken aback by his crimes against humanity, by the scientific consensus around climate change and by his failure to act? And if not, why on earth not?
Let me be crystal clear, just like the science: … scientists tell us that since we industrialised, we – human beings, that is – have caused a one degree rise in the global temperature; they tell us that global warming will likely reach one and a half degrees within the next few years if it continues to go unchecked; they tell us that above average warming is already happening in many places; in the Arctic, for instance, the rate is double or triple the average! They tell us that reaching and sticking to net zero man-made emissions worldwide will help stop global warming but only over the next few decades; our great grandchildren, however, well, they need us all to act now so that we can prevent further damage, to reverse ocean acidification and to minimise sea level rises. They tell us that many land and ocean ecosystems have already changed. They tell us that the future risk is worse if global warming exceeds one and a half degrees, especially if it reaches two degrees. They tell us that some impacts are probably going to be long-lasting or irreversible, such as the loss of even more ecosystems. And by the way, this isn’t scare-mongering by some radical leftwing fringe group. No. This is what we have been told by the United Nations’ intergovernmental panel. Members of the jury, where is the outcry? Where is the urgency, for heaven’s sake?
Aren’t you in the least bit moved by the fact that our children are panic-stricken? Yes, that’s right, the majority of young people in our country are distressed about climate change; they are experiencing feelings of anger, disgust, guilt and shame with around one in five suffering from anxiety; for them, these feelings are even more pronounced. Again, these aren’t my own views but the findings from a recent study by Imperial College. Do you think there is a person in here who is unaware of the dangers we face? What an age we live in! Members of the jury, you know it, the judge sees it, the world understands it! And yet, the populist still wields his ungodly power, immune from prosecution!
His anti-Indigenous policies have already led to two allegations of genocide in the International Criminal Court. The final report of a separate, recent congressional inquiry shows that he commanded an anti-Indigenous policy that deliberately exposed the native peoples to neglect, harassment, invasion, and violence. In relation to the recent global pandemic, the report also states that he not only failed to protect the Indigenous people from a disease to which they are more susceptible, but that he saw the virus as an opportunity to harm them.
It finds that no amount of deception can sufficiently disguise his avowed intent to target the Indigenous people. It finds that the hate speech and constant harassment reveal his hostile zeal against them, driven by greed and intolerance. I believe that’s a quote. The report accuses him of crimes against humanity, of an epidemic followed by avoidable deaths and of incitement to crime. Members of the jury, the populist’s incitement is the reason for the rising number of illegal invasions of Indigenous territories to which he turns a blind eye; he pretends not to see the countless fires taking place in the rainforest by illegal cattle ranchers, working to satisfy their own capitalist greed and our insatiable gluttony for cheap beef; he is silent on the fact that fires don’t start by accident in a rainforest.
We, however, brave and noble as we are, think that we are doing our duty to our own country if only we avoid his madness and murderous intent in the here and now. Narrow nationalism trumping a global problem: that’s how I see it. But how will our children judge us? The populist should have been removed from office long ago and on the orders of the people since clearly, his actions are at odds with the ‘general will’ which forms the basis of any social contract. History teaches us that the Indigenous people have fared horribly when they have come into contact with outsiders: the combination of forced labour and contact with European diseases such as smallpox and measles initially wiped out huge swathes of them. Even as recently as the late 1960s, by the way, the measles virus escaped and spread throughout an Indigenous population living along the Toototobi River: almost one in ten of them died from a virus which for us is no more than a childhood nuisance. When dealing with the most recent global pandemic, the populist either didn’t know this or else he didn’t care: in either case, he clearly demonstrated his contempt for them by his abject failure to fulfil his most basic function as their leader, which was to protect them. But I’m not here to philosophise or to preach. I’m more of a pragmatist and one thing I do know is that, in democracies, we elect people to govern us and to govern us well; if this man has an army and a powerful state behind him, it is his duty to enforce peace and the law. In this regard, he has quite clearly failed and has lost the moral authority to govern his people.
Shall we then – as citizens of the world – knowing that our climate is at a tipping point and that the populist is inciting genocide, observe and do nothing? Will our laissez faire approach to him amount to anything other than tacit approval of his clear breach of natural law? Shall we tolerate the populist, whose aim it is to carry fire and death throughout the whole world? I won’t mention the result of Neville Chamberlain’s laissez faire policy of appeasement in the 1930s towards a certain European dictator. I will, however, mention that we have the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which commits us to recognize each other as being born free and equal in dignity and rights irrespective of where we’re from, where we live, of our national or our ethnic origin. Do the Indigenous people not count? Do our grandchildren not count? Are some of us more ‘equal’ than others? I mean, it’s not like humanity is undecided on these issues: we have a decree! And a universal one at that. No. It is we, – I say it openly – we the people, who are lacking. The longer we appease this populist, the more we allow the sharp edge of our moral and legal authority to grow blunt.
It is my wish, members of the jury, to be a woman of compassion; however, it is also my wish not to seem easy-going at a time of serious danger for the planet and for humanity which is why I now condemn myself for my years of inaction and negligence. Despite being a retired headteacher, devoting my entire working life to the improvement of young people’s lives, it was during a moment of deep self-reflection that I came to terms with the fact that I had needed a Swedish teenage girl called Greta Thunberg to shame me into action. It was this adolescent, a mere whippersnapper some might say, whom I saw taking the bull by the horns, demanding global justice and on the world stage at that! A child, yet I – a person of authority, entrusted for years with the responsibility of guiding young people like her – had failed to take any meaningful action. What use is a risk assessment declaring the safety of a piece of playground equipment when my inertia is tacitly approving the destruction of the planet by this nefarious populist? Each and every generation is the custodian of the planet which we bequeath to subsequent generations. How are we doing on that front, members of the jury? Please ask yourselves: search your souls and don’t go easy!
These are the reasons explaining why I felt compelled to act. Do I regret it? Well, should I? Our action was coordinated with other like-minded individuals in eleven separate embassies as well as in the country’s capital city. Members of the jury, you all saw me daubing red paint onto the building: the colour red represents the blood which I believe the populist has on his hands. You saw my co-defendants spraying political messages through stencils and you have all seen the aftermath. I admit that we left a mess. While it was not my intention to damage the building – I merely wanted to raise awareness of the issues – I do accept that my actions led to the building being damaged and requiring an expensive deep clean. However, the consequence of this building being ‘criminally damaged’, as the charges state, was that the visual impression we created led to a major media outlet in the populist’s own country picking up the story and broadcasting to his people the news of our action and our motives. The debate continued over there on social media where footage of our work went viral; millions of citizens, particularly the young, took such an interest and showed such unwavering support for our cause that the populist felt obliged to act. In the aftermath of our action, climate scientists reported a quantifiable reduction in a number of areas: forest fires, carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere, loss of biodiversity, loss of habitat for Indigenous communities and the risk to life for Indigenous peoples. I put it to you, members of the jury, and I hope that you agree, that this was a case of cause and effect: we, the protestors, through our actions, caused this improvement in outcomes.
Am I guilty? Perhaps. You’ve all seen the video footage: it is undeniably me. You may decide to find me guilty and I could receive a custodial sentence from the judge. However, I ask that you put the strictly narrow constraints of criminal law to one side for a moment and consider natural law instead; it states that we mustn’t do to other people things that we would consider unjust if done to us. Is it unjust to struggle for the ‘summum bonum’ that is protecting the planet and confronting genocidal maniacal populists? Is it unjust or is it in fact virtuous to contribute to the improvement of our world even – or particularly – when it comes at great personal risk? How will history judge my actions? Will your own judgement, members of the jury, be in accordance with, or at odds with, those of your children and grandchildren when they ask you about this case in years to come? Find me guilty and natural justice will not have been served. I put it to you, members of the jury, that my actions were not only just, but laudable. Yet here I am, appealing to your moral conscience in this unequal relationship between us; today in court, you possess the power to decide my fate; I lack the power to compel you but I urge you to free yourselves from the parochial shackles of English criminal law and instead embrace natural law; be guided by your own moral compass… Thank you. –
Jane Little ended her defence, sat down, clasped her hands together while rolling her thumbs in a perpetual loop; her nervous countenance gave me the impression of someone condemned to the gallows. I turned to face my fellow members of the jury and could discern that some of them were visibly moved; two jurors wiped away the tears and I thought I noticed the judge making a mental note of this fact as he instructed us to leave the courtroom for the day; the next day, he said, we would begin our deliberations. First, however, he reminded us of our legal obligation to not investigate any aspect of the case online, nor discuss it with anyone other than our fellow jurors. Damn! I thought, not even my wife?
«The evidence clearly pointed to her guilt. On the other hand, her speech had convinced me that she had made the world a better place and that I should therefore answer to a higher set of morals: the problem was that it wasn’t immediately obvious where to find this ‘higher set of morals’.»
Day four – The jury
It felt surreal to have been exposed to such a moral dilemma and to be able to discuss it only with eleven strangers. I literally knew none of their names. Well, almost none: I had introduced myself to one of them. He was called Stanislav and he was a teacher: he was an impressive looking man in his early fifties, a widow’s peak outlined his full head of still jet black hair which was combed all the way back. He was in possession of a full, equally black beard and moustache and he wore a pair of thick black rimmed glasses; he wore a white soft-collared shirt with no tie and a brown blazer which gave him the air of an academic. His corpulent frame and slightly flushed complexion suggested that he enjoyed the epicurean pleasures of food and drink and I made an assumption that he was a moderate to heavy drinker. He had noticed my copy of Thucydides on the first day and, while walking back to the train station together, he had offered me his thoughts on the book, as well as his own thorough, tour-de-force original interpretation of ancient Greek thought, Catholic and modern philosophy, literature, psychology and his utopian vision for an education system. His intellect was frightening and I liked him instantly.
The rest of the jurors I could only define either by their juror number, an aspect of their physical appearance or by some prosaic snippet of personal information which they had disclosed, such as their job title. In order from one to twelve, the jurors were Military Man, Tory Blonde, Trust-Fund Baby, Attractive Older Lady, Venture Capitalist, juror number six, also known as Man of Few Words, Interior Designer, Grandmother, God-Fearer, me, Well-Travelled Europhile and Stanislav.
Like all juries, ours was comprised of twelve strangers randomly selected from the electoral register; I suppose the assumption is that this fact alone guarantees sufficient heterogeneity to ensure that defendants are judged by the full spectrum of their peers. However, the day before, Stanislav had said that in one sense we were all the same: we had all been through the British educational system which, it could be argued, meant that we had all been taught to think in much the same way. If he was right, wasn’t the jury in at least one sense homogenous? Stanislav had also said that all rational people are misfits because they question things, whereas conformists obey: this particular morsel of thought inspired not a small amount of self-reflection: where did I lie on this conformist misfit spectrum? I wondered.
I supposed that Jane Little was probably a misfit: surely, a teacher’s post-retirement income might be supplemented by some consultancy work but a criminal record would soon put the brakes on that particular avenue of potential income. She would have known this, so why take such a risk? I surmised that it was probably the logical conclusion of pure rationalism: Jane Little, like any other teacher worth their salt, would have had a vocational passion for the wellbeing of young people ergo protecting the planet was for her the rational corollary of this sentiment. Yet here she was, handing me the power to decide on whether or not to criminalise her which, on the other hand, didn’t seem very rational.
Day four – Deliberations
As we entered the deliberation room, I felt a whirlwind of emotions and the weight of having to resolve the unresolvable: two competing, equally valid moral requirements. – I will faithfully try the defendant and give a true verdict according to the evidence; the oath which I had made at the start of the trial now compelled me to argue for Jane Little’s guilt. The evidence clearly pointed to her guilt. On the other hand, her speech had convinced me that she had made the world a better place and that I should therefore answer to a higher set of morals: the problem was that it wasn’t immediately obvious where to find this ‘higher set of morals’. I had long since abandoned the Christian morals which had fettered my early childhood and, since I’m no anarchist, the purely rational thing was to enforce the rule of law and find her guilty, which I didn’t want to do. I felt lost between the cracks; I ached for the impossible dream of transcending these obsolete values and creating my own. That was it! I would try to convince the jury to ignore the law and find her not guilty. I imagined myself as a kind of muscular superhero blessed not only with the power of flight but with an unfailing ability to convince, a somewhat underappreciated superpower, I reckoned. If this didn’t work, I could always take to social media, publish the deliberations of the jury to the wider world and raise awareness of its limitations. Then I recalled another of the judge’s instructions – After the trial you must not talk about what happened in the deliberation room, even with family members. You can only talk about what happened in the courtroom. – The malaise which I had felt at the start of the trial soon morphed into full blown antipathy towards the state, not only for placing me – against my will – right in the middle of this ethical dilemma, but also for gagging me. Well, what if I were to publish an entirely fictional account of the deliberations? Would that work? These were my thoughts as I walked into the deliberation room; I wondered what my fellow jurors were thinking.
I didn’t have to wait long to find out. Moments after taking our cheap, hard-plastic seats around the long, dark, wooden table adorned with two jugs of cloudy, tepid tap water and two stacks of soft plastic, single-use cups, Military Man kicked off the proceedings. He was a former soldier in his mid sixties and he made it abundantly clear from the outset that Jane Little was guilty: her guilt was so clear that he was utterly perplexed by the lack of an immediate chorus of approval: he stared at us all with the dumbfounded expression of a man bereft of empathy. Venture Capitalist agreed with Military Man, – Come on guys, what is there to discuss? She is blatantly guilty; didn’t you see the footage? I mean, like, come on! Let’s just take a vote right now and decide, yeah? Or do we even need a vote? Does … does anyone actually think she’s innocent? Around the table, Tory Blonde, Trust-Fund Baby, and Man of Few Words nodded their approval but it was God-Fearer who then took up the mantle and elaborated: – The way I see it, vandalism is no different from stealing and it’s always wrong. More nods only this time slightly more vigorous and accompanied by an increasingly audible chorus of ahas. My earlier vision of possessing superpowers now abandoned me and I realised that this would be a tough jury to convince.
«This short trial had brought a number of issues into sharp relief: I was now utterly confused as to what justice actually means, who defines it anyway? Had we, the jurors, served it? I wasn’t convinced.»
I took one disposable cup from the stack and half filled it with the unappealing tap water; I took one continuous gulp as I cogitated on how I might begin. God-Fearer continued, – Also, I’m sure some of you were swayed by Jane Little’s testimony, but don’t forget what the judge said, this is a court of law, not morals. Probably, some of you aren’t religious but it does say in Leviticus 19:11 not to steal, lie or deceive and Jane Little stole from the embassy by making it spend tens of thousands of pounds on the clean-up, she then tried to deceive us on the stand into finding her innocent, it’s downright sinful. Cards on the table? I say she’s guilty. – Guys – I said almost involuntarily; eleven sets of eyes silently, politely awaiting my pearls of wisdom. I hadn’t actually planned on speaking and was now at a loss as to what to say; after a brief pause, I spoke – I think we should leave religion out of this – was all I could manage. Attractive Older Lady, Interior Designer and Well-Travelled Europhile vociferously agreed. Buoyed by their vocal approval, I gained some confidence and continued – Look, – I said while I found my words, – that poor woman in there has done something admirable, she has helped make the world a bit better, don’t you think? I, for one, feel uncomfortable in making a criminal out of her. I mean, she literally helped to make the populist do something great for the whole world, especially those poor, marginalised Indigenous communities. Why can’t we forget about our oaths, forget about the evidence and just find her not guilty? No one needs to know, in fact, it’s illegal to ever discuss these deliberations, even after the trial; no one, not even the judge, can ever ask us to explain our decision. – Military Man was horrified and he stood up, clutching the papers which the judge had given us, his index finger pointing furiously at the section in question which God-Fearer had already made reference to, – NO, NO, NO, NO! It says it right here, paragraph 21, sub-section b, this is a court of LAW, not morals! Absolutely no way should we be doing away with the rule of law. It would be a criminal dereliction of duty, the woman is GUILTY, we all know that she is. Let’s stop this nonsense and just get on with finding her guilty so that we can all go home. – The certainty with which he spoke trumped my own lack of confidence which I felt might be portrayed as self-doubt. Nonetheless, the barrage of approval which I expected was not immediately forthcoming.
Attractive Older Lady’s attractiveness now increased exponentially, – I couldn’t agree more with the idea that we should forget about our oaths; we took those at the start of the trial, before we’d heard the case, but now we all know the facts, and we’re not lawyers, we are twelve of her peers who have been asked to judge her. For me, it comes down to this, she did something illegal but right. I would prefer for us to find her not guilty. – Grandmother punched the air and fell just short of shouting out her support – YES! Interior Designer showed her approval by nodding vigorously. Military Man, who was still standing, took three long strides to the window and stared silently out towards the London skyline, turning his back in disgust on those of us who disagreed with him. I didn’t know his rank but I made the assumption that he was a man used to following as well as giving orders, and moreover, to being obeyed; I could tell that I was not the only person uncomfortable by his tone and non-verbal communication: he was the only person pacing around the room and showing visible signs of frustration. Only Stanislav was yet to make his feelings known.
– OK guys, I think I should probably let you know where I stand. I think that the frustration that some of us are feeling comes down to the fact that we want to do what’s right. Unfortunately, we are oath-bound, and understandably so, to act lawfulfully: in a way that upholds the law. Specifically, English criminal law. The problem that some of us are having is that the law seeks to eliminate any kind of thinking that tries to explain human behaviour: in a way, the law doesn’t care about the truth, its sole purpose is to punish the crime, not to eradicate its causes. –
Silence ensued as the jurors contemplated his words. Stanislav continued:
– The law cannot do away with the notion of guilt, it needs it because guilt is the foundation upon which we have punishment and sentencing: guilt, so to speak, is the law’s ‘raison d’etre’ and criminal law will never abandon this notion. The law wants us to find Jane Little guilty, the law is unconcerned with her laudable motives or with the undeniably positive outcomes that she helped achieve. Can you imagine if we were truly rational truth seekers? We would be living in a utopian society where politicians, monarchs and the army would refrain from pronouncing publicly without the approval of specialists in distinguishing truth from fiction, in other words, philosophers. This is obviously pie in the sky, and I’m not advocating for it, I’m just pointing out that we don’t care as much about the truth as we’d like to think. Our job here is more about apportioning blame than it is about seeking some kind of objective or moral truth.
I also think that the law sometimes tries to civilise us: it justifies its use of punishment and sentencing, for example, as a way of protecting us from behaviours and people who pose some kind of danger to society. I’ve been asking myself, what kind of danger does Jane Little actually pose? Call me a Marxist, but I reckon that danger to ‘society’ in a class-based society such as ours, is a notion which cannot be scientifically determined but is instead inextricably bound up in notions of class and power. Humour me a little here and I’ll try to explain what I mean: I’m sure we’ve all seen some run-down parts of this city covered in graffiti, right? Well, what’s the ethical difference between that and what Jane Little did? I’ll tell you the difference: – apart from her motivation – the obvious difference is that not all victims are equal. Jane Little attacked the embassy of a prominent, post-Brexit commercial ally, not some immigrant’s small business or council flat staircase. We’ve already had Leviticus quoted in this deliberation room, so forgive me for quoting the German playwright Bertold Brecht: he once declared it easier to steal by establishing a bank than by robbing one. Will the bank owner be found guilty of theft? Rarely, if ever. Will the bank robber? Clearly. My own view is that this case that we are trying points to two key areas: first, Jane Little is guilty of criminal damage. Secondly, she is facing prosecution only because of the high status of her victim. I’m not sure if any of you guys are familiar with the tragic story of Antigone who is forced to choose between two incompatible alternatives: on the one hand, her belief in the laws of the city and on the other, the issue of her brother’s burial which King Creon has declared illegal. Illegal maybe, but utterly wrong on moral grounds. What does Antigone do? Well, she buries him anyway and suffers the consequences – I’ll spare you the details. Jane Little knew what she was doing, she broke the law and must now face the consequences.
It is with a heavy heart, believe me, with a heavy heart indeed, that I am going to find her guilty. Not because I think that it is the morally just thing to do, I don’t, but because this case won’t be seen as some kind of test case for the judicial system, the act of protesting or of the legitimacy of the populist himself. The law has seen to it that we are sufficiently straightjacketed into trying her on the very narrow parameters of criminal law. It’s what the law does, this is not a truth-seeking, but a guilt-seeking exercise. I propose that we all find her guilty, hope that she doesn’t receive a custodial sentence and make peace with ourselves by supporting her environmental cause once this trial ends. Who’s with me? –
– Has the jury reached a verdict?
– Do you find the defendant guilty or not guilty?
The defendant betrayed no visible reaction to the guilty verdict other than serenely observing the members of the jury with a generous half-smile that seemed to convey both empathy and warmth for her persecutors. I could almost hear the words of Christ on the cross – Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do – For the second time that week, I had felt comforted by scripture. Nonetheless, when our eyes met I felt an intense and immediate need to avert my gaze, crushed as I was with the guilt of having convicted this admirable woman; like a modern-day Judas, you could say. This short trial had brought a number of issues into sharp relief: I was now utterly confused as to what justice actually means, who defines it anyway? Had we, the jurors, served it? I wasn’t convinced. Of course, Jane Little had done those things for which she had been found guilty but if ever there were a case of the ends justifying the means then surely this was it. Her flagrant disregard for her own well-being for the benefit of a higher cause made her seem like some kind of Nietzschean “Superman”: she had argued beyond the legal definition of right and wrong, made herself more virtuous than any of us in the process and accepted her own fate with a will strong enough to embrace anything, including a guilty verdict. I mean, she literally glued herself to the embassy and gave an interview; at no point did she run! She had transcended any traditional Christian notion of morality and had created her own set of rules. Good on her, I thought. In fact, I had developed such admiration for her that my guilty judgement awoke in me a level of cognitive dissonance hitherto unknown. I had fought hard to convince my fellow jurors to ignore the oath that we had all sworn – to judge the evidence in relation to the charge – and instead to judge the defendant on purely moral grounds, but clearly my powers of persuasion were as limited as those of the mediocre barristers on display during the trial.
An imbalance of power
It was a bright, sunny yet chilly afternoon as I left the courtroom and walked straight to the nearby river, only a few hundred yards from the court. I ordered a black coffee, watched the to-ing and fro-ing of the tides and allowed my mind to drift: it drifted first to the Great Stink of 1858, making me instantly grateful not to be surrounded by the far-reaching stench of raw sewage swirling endlessly, back and forth, back and forth. The continuous movement of the brackish water and its brown sediment forever suspended in the water column reminded me of the perpetual movement and presence of jurors who must have visited this very spot over the years, seeking solace from the weight of their responsibility. All of whom had been coerced. Maybe the Athenians were right and this was fair because justice is no more than what the powerful say it is, the state is powerful and has been coercing its citizens since its inception: my experience is nothing but the latest iteration of this age old power dynamic between the state and the individual. Plus ça change I thought; perhaps I’d be happier if I just accept those things which I have no power to control. I suppose giving up a bit of my own personal freedom is a reasonable price to pay for the avoidance of anarchy; didn’t Churchill once say something about democracy being far from perfect but better than all other alternatives? I suppose the same might be said for jury service.
Gustavo García is an essay writer, a translator and also a languages teacher and head of department. He has a degree in Classical Civilisations from Leeds University with an MA in Education. He has just completed a translation of Educación y democracia by Colombian philosopher and social critic Estanislao Zuleta. He is a father and, like Eduardo Galeano, a frustrated footballer. This is his first short story for Perro Negro. He lives in London