Thursday, November 25, 2010

Tweeting as a juror

Oh, it’s all go on the jury front at the moment! First, I’m called up to be a juror, then the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales decides to discuss the topic of tweeting and doing online research while acting as a juror.

In terms of my own experience in a Scottish court, I have to say, there weren’t any warnings about tweeting or going online via our phones by anyone official while I was in the public area of the court, or the jury room. I think there may have been a comment by the Clerk to turn phones to silent while we waited to be selected, but that may be a figment of my imagination, as I was reminding myself to make sure my phone was on silent while sitting there.

Once selected and led to the jury room we were told by the court officer that we had to turn our phones off, and we were to be allowed one phone call to a relevant person who needed to know we’d been selected and therefore unavailable until 4pm (childminders etc) on the landline in the room, but other than that, we were meant to be incommunicado. I did think it was a slightly archaic instruction at the time, especially since one individual who needed to inform her childcarer just used her mobile, as it was easier than finding the number and dialling it on the landline phone! We were instructed about not discussing the case with family or friends when we went home, but nothing was said about not looking up the defendants online.

Needless to say, this “turn your phones off” instruction was pretty much completely ignored – texting and emailing was going on frequently as we sat in the jury room, and people continued to use their phones to do their work (one person was using his Blackberry to deal with his emails, while we sat twiddling our thumbs waiting), while others were texting regular updates to people about when they might possibly be getting out of the court. I was also naughty and did tweet once….to say I was bored! And I was also texting to ask someone to look up the times of the next trains for me, as I was going to see them whenever we were allowed out.

Admittedly, we as the jury hadn’t heard anything beyond what had been read out in public in the court, so perhaps things would have been different if we’d actually been involved in any deliberations.

So, to complain about people tweeting in court, when they’ve not had any instructions NOT to, may be a bit daft. Yes, technically, in the jury room our phones should have been turned off. But when you’re being dragged out of your normal life to sit on a jury, and everything’s put on hold, you need some sort of way to still stay involved with reality. And with modern technology allowing so much of your life to be dealt with via your phone (emails, texts, social networks, events calendar), cutting you off from that without an understandable reason means people WILL just ignore your rules, as my jury members and I did.

If you want people not to do specific things, tell them that: don’t just assume they’ll know the rules and reasons that you do, or that they will be compliant enough not to show some interested thought and actively try and find out themselves, in some small way, what “really” happened in a case...it's definitely a temptation to "play detective"!

You could also clearly explain the penalties for disobedience – we knew we could get in trouble for discussing the case with other people, and that was something that I don’t think any of us had any intention of doing, but there was no hint of a penalty for internet/online activity.


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Jury duty – seeing justice in inaction

So, I work in a law firm, I deal with law-type stuff…but it’s all commercial law. I’ve never dealt with criminal law, and have no real clue about how that all works.

So, when I got my third call for jury duty in three years (the first two years they exempted me as my current and previous workplaces mean I know various legal types, and may have opinions that would render me biased, but this time I thought I’d go along anyway and they could dismiss me if they felt I was unlikely to be able to serve ), I turned up to the Sheriff Court like a good girl.

And my, what a long, long, boring day that turned out to be!

The juror citation letter said come in at 10, but call the helpline after 5pm the day before for more information.

The phoneline says come in at 10.30.

I arrived at 10.30, joined the queue of other people clutching letters, while we waited outside the designated court for 10 mins.

We all filed in and sat down, all 60 plus of us, and the Clerk of court gave a 5 min briefing on what would happen next/procedures. My favourite bit was when the Clerk said "does anyone object to taking the oath, and would rather do an affirmation instead?" Well, maybe if they'd explained what either one was, somone might have - I would probably have preferred the affirmation, as I feel no burden of duty to god, as used in the oath, but hey-ho.

We had a roll call, and everyone confirmed they were there, it was like being back in school. Or in the classroom in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off…”Beuller…..Bueller…..Bueller?” There was a distinct air of boredom.

Various people, obviously unable to read properly, came up to the Clerk and asked why their names hadn't been called....erm, that would be because the date on their letters was the previous day, or, in one case, it was dated the week before.

Then we sat, in silence, increasingly bored, for 50 long mins, as Procurator Fiscal, defence solicitor and Clerk chatted and faffed, with occasional visits from another clerk and the officer of the court for variety. Many newspapers were read, phones checked, and books broken out.

Then the defendant was brought in, the charges against them were read out, and the Clerk drew the jurors names from the bowl. (I don't understand why the defendant gets to see and hear the jurors names - that can be a bit worrying...as I'll come to later). There was much tension as each one of us prayed our names weren’t going to be pulled out.

After all the jurors were seated, the Sheriff asked if any juror now, after hearing the charges and the names of those involved in the case, and seeing the defendant, felt they would be unable to serve due to any conflict. One juror claimed tinnitus made hearing the discussions difficult - the sheriff dismissed them, which they seemed strangely able to hear clearly enough, and another juror was drawn to replace them.

Then we sat and waited while the charges were read again, and the jury went through to their room, in case anyone else was found to be unable to sit and needed replaced. This trial was scheduled to last 4 days.

The jurors came back in, and as nobody had raised any further issues to the officer of the court while in the jury room, the jury was complete. So, after 1 hour and 40 mins of sitting doing nothing, we were dismissed....to go to the court next door, where a jury was also needed. And also, it appears, where heating was optional. When you’re wearing a 3 piece suit, a wig, and a gown, you may be slightly insulated from the Arctic chill of the room you’re in. Us jurors however, were not.

Again, we sat and waited here for 20 mins as the Procurator Fiscal and solicitors/Clerk faffed about, then names were called for the jury, mine unfortunately being one of them. Of course, by this time the delightful defendants were in the dock: the guy being led up from the cells, the girl coming in from the public gallery seats. Even better, their pals were in the front seats of the public gallery area too...and as our names were called, they made a big point of twisting round in their seats, and staring at us as we made our way to the jury box. Now, apparently at this point they may also have been speaking to us / making comments to us, but none of the jury remember hearing anything - we were all so focussed on getting to the box and sitting down, and doing things right. So, these lovely individuals now know my name, and what I look like? That's reassuring.

As the jury was being called however the male defendant was slouching about in the dock, stretching back, looking over at the jury and loudly saying "this is ridiculous, you're all going to find me not guilty anyway" etc to us. The Clerk then quietly (but heard by all of us) told the defence solicitor to "tell your client to shut his face, he's not doing his case any favours", and after a quiet word from his solicitor, he managed to keep himself quiet.

Then the Clerk read us the indictment, including one persons 8 bailings in the 7 months prior to what they were jointly accused of. I think at that point, from their disrespectful attitude and behaviour alone, pretty much everyone on the jury already was forming a bad opinion of them.

Then, since time had dragged on, it was time for lunch – we were led to a room where we were fed soup and sandwiches with the other juries, under supervision of our court officers, then led back to our jury room, which we weren’t allowed to leave without an escort. It felt like we were the prisoners.

Lunch was scheduled to be 1-2...and by 2.15 we were getting a bit fidgety with waiting for the court officer to come and get us: we just wanted to get on with it, or be allowed to go. Then the court officer appeared, and asked if we'd been spoken to by the boys in the public gallery. None of us could remember that, but we had all seen them glaring at us when we were selected, and we weren't happy about that. Apparently the Clerk and PF had heard them speak, but didn't know what they'd said, but from their other behaviour it was likely to be threatening or potentially an attempt at intimidating the jury. So, discussions were going on about that...then we were told one of the defendants was going to plead guilty. Then they weren’t. Then they would, but only to certain stuff, so they were amending the charges. Meanwhile, we were discussing if it would be overly cruel to hide under the table and in the toilets from Billy the court officer, as this was his first day on the job...

Eventually, at 3.15, we all filed through to the court...where we had nothing to do but sit and listen (and shiver – most of us forgot to bring our coats out of the jury room) for 45 mins as the PF read out what the Crown believed was the version of events (more mutterings from defendant or public gallery - first one, then the second of their pals were removed by the police), then the defence solicitors tried to make their clients out to be semi-angels (despite 1 currently residing in prison for the next 3.5 years for...breaking and entering offences, and having 2 prior violence with knives convictions, and the other being respectfully dressed for court in a tracksuit, huge hoop earrings, MP3 player earbuds dangling, and slumping onto her elbows in the dock when they had to stand for sentencing, with the Reliance officer elbowing her and telling her to stand up straight), then we were told we were done by the sheriff, and dismissed.

A long, pointless day, from the point of view of a juror. I can only imagine what it must be like to have to actually work in the system, and have to deal with this sort of faffing about every single day.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

I got tired of waiting

Well, 4 days after I’d been told my material would be taken off that site…it was still there. So I sent a further email saying if it was not removed immediately, I would be taking the matter up with their ISP (and many thanks to the peeps who commented, and gave me the info on how to do this if I needed to).

And I got a reply:

Hello,


As we have informed you before, we remove the details. Don't worry. We have

stopped updating this section about 2 years before. So we are checking the

credentials of the articles section with design dept.

Surely we will remove it shortly.

Then, a follow up a few hours later:

Please check it, its removed.

And lo and behold, it is indeed gone…yay!

However, all that other content from other people/sites, harvested in 2008 is still sitting there. But telling all those people is a bigger job than I can take on...

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

I believe I know the name of this defence

It's called "A Big Boy did it, and ran away", aka "It wisnae us, Guv"

This is the text of the (to give them credit, admittedly fast) response I got from the website that was using my blog post, as mentioned previously:

Dear Sir,

Apologies for the issue.

Thanks for your information. we will remove the same. It was happened

by our operators who has posted about long back. We got permissions from the authors

that time. Some of the posts they have put like this.


Best Regards

Venkat Sure



So, according to them, it was posted on their site a while ago (I'm assuming in 2008, as that's when the posts lifted from me and others were created), and they got permission from the authors at that time?
Well, unless I have changed personality since 2008*, I never gave that permission, so that's no real excuse.

And...as of now, my content is still there. How long exactly should it take to remove my content? How long should I give them, before moving from Slightly Irritated into Quite Irate?

* Admittedly, this is a faint possibility - maybe I had a psychotic break, gave them that permission, and forgot about it, and neither I nor anyone else realised I'd been temporarily mad, and randomly giving away my intellectual property rights...

Monday, November 15, 2010

I am not a genius author

And, as many of my posts can prove, I'm no insightful writer, or awesome, world-shaking thinker. I know my level, and it's kinda low :)

But I do write this blog, and it is all the product of my own, random mind. I don't blog on legalish/bookish/techiesh stuff anywhere else, and I've never done a guest blog post elsewhere either: anything I write as "Jennie Law" is here, and only here. It may not be of any great intellectual value, I get no financial benefit from it, but it is mine, all mine.

So when I found that someone had come to my blog recently via a link on another site, to an old post from 2008 about ebooks, I wondered why they were looking at such old stuff, and who was referring to it.

I followed the link back, and I found that the entirety of the 2008 post on ebooks is available on the site where the visitor originated from, with a link at the bottom to my blog post. The company is SGD Networks, which appears to be based in India, and has nothing to do with libraries, or law, but a lot to do with web development, graphic design, and web hosting. There was no sign that I was the author of that post other than the link: it had just been copied and pasted onto this site. Along with, it would appear, lots of other articles from various sources, all from 2008 as well.

Now, my memory may not be razor sharp, but I'm pretty sure I'd remember if I'd been asked for permission for my work to be used elsewhere. And I wasn't.
My blog is not under a Creative Commons license, so I certainly haven't given freedom to reuse the content I create - it is up to me to decide where that content may appear.

So, I've sent a polite "you did not ask for permission to use my content, please remove it immediately" email today. Let's see what happens, shall we?


It's a long story...

...you know, where I've been since I last posted about going to Australia.

Well....

Would you believe me if I told you that I'd somehow ended up wandering in the port in the early hours of the morning, and accidentally stumbled into a shipping container, which somehow locked itself behind me? *

And that after hours of banging on the walls and shouting to no avail, I fell into an exhausted asleep, only to be woken up when I felt the container swaying gently around, before being jolted across the floor when it thumped down suddenly?

Soon after that, I heard the ringing and clanging bangs of other containers being placed around and above mine, trapping me in the centre of a pile of huge metal boxes. I was enclosed in a container-made cage, on what I had to assume was a ship, bound for an unknown destination with its registered cargo. Plus the addition of an unauthorised, accidental stowaway.


With no way out of the metal box, I just had to resign myself to settling in and waiting, hoping that somebody would eventually find me. Luckily for me, I'd fallen into a container well supplied with Irn Bru and Monster Munch, so I managed to sustain my strength through the long sea journey. In the darkness of the container I soon lost track of time, although luckily the dynamo torch on my keyring allowed me the luxury of illumination when I needed it. Such as when I had to choose between Roast Beef, or Pickled Onion Monster Munch. The Flaming Hot Monster Munch I used to create a mattress - it's the only thing they were fit for, I certainly wasn't in a dire enough situation at that point to be forced to actually eat them.

You will have gathered that eventually, of course, the ship arrived at its final stop, thankfully here in the UK. As the containers were unloaded, gradually my temporary home, with its nest of empty crisp packets and cans was unveiled. I was helped out of there by shocked dock staff, and have been slowly recuperating since: it appears that a diet comprising only Monster Munch and Irn Bru has some deficiencies in certain areas. I believe this may explain why I am still so very pale, and the light still hurts my eyes. Although I wonder if that might have something to do with the little bat that we found I was sharing my container with - the dock workers found its body crushed under a dislodged pallet of Irn Bru cans. And for some reason, I do seem to be developing a strange, strong hankering for...blood?


*This may be an entirely fictional account of the last 6 weeks. Or it may be entirely true. The choice...is yours.

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