ON A STEAMY Sydney day, I find myself in a crowded room, summoned for jury service. There are about fifty of us, all called by chance in a lottery we want to lose. The court officials, who could be models for pompous officials in Little Britain, accept few excuses from those who ask for exemption. The dominant mood is grumpiness. When we are shepherded into court, a red-robed judge, sitting on high, welcomes us. The Accused is charged with murdering people I have never heard of, who died in a place I do not know. Other charges relate to stolen ATM cards as the Accused allegedly did “dishonestly obtain for himself monies, namely withdrew from the bank accounts” of those he is alleged to have killed. He is but a shadow, a question mark for the court to resolve. This crime has nothing to do with me.
The judge’s associate draws lots and reads out a list of numbers. In New South Wales, jurors are known only by their numbers. Without any knowledge of names, lawyers and clients must rely on guesswork if they decide to challenge. I hope the severity of my black shirt will indicate an alienating persona. The man next to me wears a white shirt and silver tie. His is the second number called and I start to relax in the belief that probability will give me freedom. The next number called is mine. The Accused’s barrister challenges the man in the white shirt. Only men are challenged, most of the surviving jurors are women.
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