Evelina Silveira, President Diversity at Work
Just a few weeks ago I was sitting in a courtroom with my summons to jury duty in hand; looking around the room, admiring the wood and watching as other potential jurors entered. There was some noticeable tension mixed in with a good dose of excitement. Did I want to be picked or didn’t I? I guess it all depended on how long the commitment would be I thought, because I have a business to run.
Before I knew it, I was in a room with about 150 people from London and some surrounding towns. As usual, I had my diversity hat on and observed that there was one black woman and about 5 people who may have been Chinese. The rest were white. To protect confidentiality I noticed that we were referred to by our numbers and our occupation. It saw an over representation of white retired people — especially nurses.
Jury selection seems like an odd process, which starts from receiving a summons to jury duty based on a random selection, to sitting through a day of waiting.
I was really confused. I thought the whole idea around a jury was to give the accused a fair trial and that meant getting a good cross-section of local citizens, right? I spent about 5 hours in the court room until my number was called only to tell them that I couldn’t sit in a 4 week trial because I am self-employed. Some people were never called and others came forward at least 4 times.
The process of selecting the actual jury for the trial was interesting. The lawyers could choose their jury. After sitting through 5 jury selections, I remarked how there was probably only one juror who was over 60. The first selection was comprised of about 95% middle –aged women. The other primarily women under 30. The whole process left me bewildered. How could we call this representative?
When a potential juror cannot sit on a trial they need to address the judge and give them the reason why they are unable to do so. Although our numbers were used to protect our confidentiality, the reasons potential jurors gave were made public. I have to say that I was left feeling disappointed and deflated by the experience. Those of us who were sitting and waiting shouldn’t have had to hear the story about the man suffering from anxiety, the other from depression, a number of people with serious medical conditions and a person who just lost her mother who was in tears telling the judge. What was the purpose? What about the 10 people who were suffering from chronic back pain who had to sit through the 5 hours only to tell the judge about their medical problems in a crowd of 150?
With all of the technology out there and the government’s stated commitment to privacy, equity and diversity – it’s high time we take a look at jury selection, there has got to be a better way.