There are many times in life when I feel like a child pretending to be an adult – like when I check in at an airport and nobody asks me where my parents are, or when people are willing to rent me their house without questioning my ability to remember to lock the doors or turn the hob off. But the feeling has never been more tangible than this summer when I found myself sat with 12 strangers about to go into a court room, where a real person had been charged with a real crime; it was on my shoulders to listen to the evidence and judge their fate, and by extension, the fate of other people. Send a guilty person free and if they re-offend you’re responsible for their future victims or send an innocent person to jail and you’re responsible for their suffering. I must admit, as I sat there not knowing what to expect, I was scared.
When my jury summons arrived I thought there had been a mistake; I was always under the impression that students were not eligible for jury service. Also maybe more than simply being misguided, perhaps a part of me thought that students were too young for jury service, that you had to be a real grown up with a job and a proper life before you were allowed to take part in such important proceedings. But I was wrong.
Since 2004, anybody over the age of 18 is eligible to be called for jury duty. Jurors are selected from the electoral roll (that’ll teach me to vote) and they’re randomly selected by computer, to ensure that the jurors reflect the community. But what I really want to know is this, are young people such as ourselves ready to confidently and competently deal with situations as morally and mentally challenging as a criminal trial? Yes as students we have a certain level of intelligence and we are able to live independently, but are we mature enough to cope with such adult matters? How would we deal with a case that was grisly or distressing? Have we developed into people with concrete ideas of right and wrong and are we willing to fight for our opinions if other members of the jury were to disagree with us?
Perhaps the day will never come when something that poses great responsibility will not scare me. Others may breeze through life undaunted by such challenges, but for those of us who still yearn for the days when the important decisions were made for us, perhaps jury duty belongs on the list of things that we simply have to endure. I may not feel like an adult yet, but I blew out 21 candles on my last birthday and so in the eyes of the powers that be I am one.
In the end, as the old adage goes, you have to take the rough with the smooth, and if we, as over 18s, are willing to accept the perks of being legally considered adults (being able to buy and drink alcohol, smoke, go clubbing, get married, vote), then we must also be prepared to accept the responsibilities that come with those privileges.
So, if you do find yourself called up for jury duty, here’s some advice – don’t panic… and bring a book.