General Prologue to the Tales of the Jury

by Albert Semple, 2022

  1. The letter came in spring time
  2.  when the snowdrops caught the breeze,
  3. And bluebells sprung in shady spots
  4.  beneath the budding trees.
  5. When parents try to get their children
  6.  outside for fresh air
  7. To wean them off of screen-time,
  8.  hope their eyes do not stay square.

  9. The letter summoned me
  10.  for court attendance in July,
  11. And warned me of the consequence
  12.  if I did not reply.
  13. Among my humble peers
  14.  my jury service would begin
  15. To serve a civic duty
  16.  and assess alleged sin.

  17. It said selection was at random
  18.  from the voters' roll.
  19. Without a good exemption
  20.  or — within the rules — a hole,
  21. Attendance was required
  22.  at the mandatory time
  23. To take my turn determining
  24.  those guilty of a crime.

  25. It said that my employer
  26.  must consent to grant me leave.
  27. It said expect two weeks
  28.  before dismissal I'd receive,
  29. Although it could be longer
  30.  if the case was quite complex:
  31. They'd say on my arrival
  32.  if my time would need to flex.

  33. I'd get a measly stipend
  34.  if my wage I would not earn,
  35. Expenses for my bus fare
  36.  if that was a big concern,
  37. But as a civil servant,
  38.  walking distance from the court,
  39. Those offers were not needed
  40.  for my income to support.

  41. Informing my employer
  42.  of my summons to the court,
  43. Excused of all my duties,
  44.  let my colleagues hold the fort.
  45. I duly did respond
  46.  before the deadline had expired,
  47. Resigned myself to service
  48.  on a jury as required.

  49. Commencement day arrived
  50.  and down toward the court I went
  51. But not the public entrance
  52.  the accused and lawyers went:
  53. An alley down the side,
  54.  then up some steps behind the bin,
  55. An inconspicuous doorway
  56.  where they let the jurors in.

  57. Our bags were x-rayed first
  58.  and then were checked for contraband,
  59. We all walked through a portal
  60.  so our bodies could be scanned,
  61. A guard checked through our passports
  62.  in a most officious style
  63. To check that no imposters
  64.  infiltrated any trial.

  65. The crowd of jurors congregated
  66.  in a waiting room
  67. No windows and no daylight,
  68.  just an artificial gloom
  69. Fluorescent tubes projected
  70.  on a carpet tile floor
  71. With steel-framed chairs and tables,
  72.  and a dated beige décor.

  73. An ancient, muted telly
  74.  mounted high upon the wall
  75. Showed daytime television shows
  76.  to entertain us all.
  77. A little serving counter
  78.  with no staff that we could see,
  79. The signage offered coffee,
  80.  biscuits, crisps and cups of tea.

  81. But as there were no personnel
  82.  to sate our appetite,
  83. Or any such diversion
  84.  in the artificial light,
  85. We just sat down, arranged ourselves
  86.  in random little cliques
  87. In quiet conversation,
  88.  talking of the next two weeks.

  89. The doors crashed open
  90.  heralding the entrance of a man
  91. In blackened robes like Dracula,
  92.  or guard from Azkaban,
  93. Or visitant of Christmas yet to Come,
  94.  or other ghost.
  95. It seemed our new assembly
  96.  had acquired ourselves a host!

  97. A stocky former policeman,
  98.  with the body of a brute,
  99. In black judicial robes
  100.  over a double breasted suit.
  101. With thinning silver hair cropped short
  102.  above a wrinkled brow
  103. He coughed to get attention,
  104.  "May I have some silence, now.

  105. "My name is Harry Bailey,
  106.  I'm an usher in the court
  107. My job is to advise you
  108.  and to act as an escort,
  109. Deliver your induction
  110.  on the day that you arrive,
  111. Explaining how you'll spend your time in court
  112.  from nine to five."

  113. "I'll show you round the canteen
  114.  where you'll spend most off your day,
  115. Just watching time on jury service
  116.  slowly tick away.
  117. I'll call the names when jurors
  118.  are shortlisted for a trial,
  119. Among my other duties,"
  120.  he continued with a smile.

  121. "Now if you'll follow me
  122.  I'll be your tour guide through this place."
  123. He led us through the double doors
  124.  and to a waiting space.
  125. "This bench is where you'll wait
  126.  to be admitted to the court,
  127. And normally your waiting time in here
  128.  is rather short.

  129. "But sometimes we must wait a bit
  130.  although we are so near,
  131. The lawyers may discuss some matters
  132.  that you shouldn't hear,
  133. Like whether certain evidence
  134.  is fit to be reviewed:
  135. Through legal technicallities
  136.  some things they may exclude.

  137. "Now welcome to the court room
  138.  where the trial will occur
  139. From here you'll hear the evidence
  140.  on which you will confer.
  141. A desk for both the lawyers
  142.  where their case they will reveal
  143. Sit forward of the judge's bench
  144.  beneath the royal seal.

  145. "The dock where our accused will watch
  146.  as we decide their fate
  147. Sits opposite the judges bench,
  148.  behind a safety gate.
  149. (Defendants sometimes used to try
  150.  from custody to flee
  151. Until we wrapped the dock in glass
  152.  to stop them getting free.)

  153. "The witness stand against the wall
  154.  where visitors relate
  155. Delivering their evidence
  156.  so you appreciate
  157. The circumstances of the case
  158.  to help you figure out
  159. The facts: if they are proven
  160.  beyond reasonable doubt.

  161. "The desk beside the stand
  162.  is for the members of the press
  163. Who sometimes do report
  164.  on how our cases do progress.
  165. They won't take any photos,
  166.  you won't be identified
  167. For I protect you all
  168.  from interference from outside.

  169. "Beyond the press,
  170.  those seats make up the public gallery
  171. The fam'ly members of the victims
  172.  sometimes come to see
  173. Or our defendants friends may come
  174.  to offer their support
  175. Or sometimes nosey citizens
  176.  just come to watch for sport.

  177. "And this space is the jury box,
  178.  within which we do stand
  179. It's where you'll hear the narrative
  180.  the lawyers both have planned
  181. The prosecution's claim
  182.  and our defendant's best denial.
  183. And should you be selected
  184.  this is where you'll watch the trial.

  185. "Before the trial starts
  186.  and the evidence is heard
  187. I'll swear you in as jurors,
  188.  unto God you'll give your word,
  189. You'll promise to be honest
  190.  and to give your verdict true,
  191. Fulfil your civic duty
  192.  and to see the trial through.

  193. "So this concludes our tour
  194.  and to the canteen you'll retreat
  195. To have some tea or coffee
  196.  or to snack on something sweet,
  197. But please don't leave the building,
  198.  please just hold on for a while:
  199. We'll draw names from a hat
  200.  assigning jurors to a trial."

  201. We waited in the canteen eagerly
  202.  to learn our fate,
  203. To learn what sort of trial
  204.  our perusal did await.
  205. While some took part in small-talk,
  206.  some read news upon their phone,
  207. Some others brought a paperback
  208.  to sit and read alone.

  209. The smokers went outside
  210.  to have a cheeky cigarette,
  211. While others gazed upon
  212.  the muted television set.
  213. The counter serving tea was open:
  214.  I picked up a drink,
  215. And sat down on my own,
  216.  enjoying space and time to think.

  217. Some forty minutes ticked away
  218.  without receiving word
  219. Of how we'd be deployed
  220.  among the trials being heard.
  221. The jurors grew impatient,
  222.  some did grumble discontent,
  223. And one young lady seemed to be
  224.  the focus of dissent.

  225. "We're left out here like mugs",
  226.  she said to us, her retinue.
  227. "I should be making content
  228.  for my followers to view.
  229. My channel will decline
  230.  unless I frequently present
  231. New footage of my lifestyle
  232.  for my fans to compliment.

  233. "I'm going to find that usher,
  234.  educate him of my worth:
  235. The biggest lifestyle vlogger
  236.  that has been on planet Earth!"
  237. The jurors gave no feedback,
  238.  although some did roll their eyes,
  239. Apparently nobody felt
  240.  the need to sympathise.

  241. We sat in awkward silence,
  242.  no-one gave encouragement,
  243. While she sought out the usher
  244.  to put forth her argument,
  245. But as she neared the double doors,
  246.  our host did reappear,
  247. And with his stern demeanour
  248.  made her boldness disappear.

  249. "If you will all be seated, please,"
  250.  our solemn host pronounced,
  251. "And listen while your allocations
  252.  duly are announced.
  253. The jury to be summoned first
  254.  to courtroom number three
  255. Will hear the evidence
  256.  around a case of burglary.

  257. "So please be still:
  258.  the allocated jurors I will call
  259. And if you hear your name
  260.  please line up here, against the wall."
  261. He looked down at his clipboard
  262.  using reading specs to see
  263. He ran his finger down the list
  264.  and started his decree:

  265. "Our juror number one
  266.  is Mr Jeffrey Wozniak."
  267. A greying man ascended
  268.  from his chair right at the back.
  269. He moved towards the usher
  270.  with a noticeable sigh
  271. With slip-on loafers, chinos,
  272.  crimson blazer and a tie.

  273. "And juror number two
  274.  is Mrs Sandra Smith-McColl."
  275. A short and sturdy woman stood
  276.  and walked towards the wall,
  277. With spiky auburn hair,
  278.  her glasses leashed around her neck.
  279. She dressed in vibrant colours,
  280.  floral pink and gingham check.

  281. "And Miss Jemima Jones
  282.  will be our juror number three."
  283. The female who before
  284.  did try to start a mutiny,
  285. Got up and paused,
  286.  ensuring that her discontent did show
  287. "I shouldn't really be here,
  288.  I have things to do, you know."

  289. "Unless the judge agrees,
  290.  and you are somehow found exempt,
  291. He'll have you in the cells
  292.  awaiting charges of contempt."
  293. The usher gave his warning
  294.  - juror three he did subdue:
  295. She took up her position
  296.  next to juror number two.

  297. "Now Mr Albert Semple
  298.  is our Juror number four."
  299. So I was due to find
  300.  just what this trial held in store.
  301. I stood up from my station,
  302.  walking past the TV screen,
  303. And joined the other three
  304.  along the wall of the canteen.

  305. "And juror number five
  306.  is Mrs Betty Thackery"
  307. A lady in a wheelchair
  308.  took position next to me.
  309. "Our juror number six
  310.  is Mr Ranveer Kohli-Singh"
  311. A handsome, turbaned Asian
  312.  with the stature of a king.

  313. "And juror number seven, please,
  314.  is Mr Gareth Howell."
  315. A juvenile in leisurewear
  316.  did join us with a scowl.
  317. "A Ms Fiona Ellington
  318.  is juror number eight."
  319. A thin but lofty woman
  320.  joined us with a striding gait.

  321. "And Billy Smith will join us
  322.  as our juror number nine"
  323. A hard-to-gender person
  324.  took their place within the line.
  325. "Now Mr Steven Lowe
  326.  will be our juror number ten."
  327. A youngish man with glasses
  328.  brought a notebook and a pen.

  329. "Eleventh place is taken
  330.  by a Miss Joanne O'Dowd."
  331. A mousy, younger female stood
  332.  and joined our growing crowd.
  333. "Professor Edith Jones
  334.  will be our Juror number twelve"
  335. A striking fair haired woman
  336.  like a J R Tolkien elf.

  337. "So now we have a jury.
  338.  If you'll kindly follow me,
  339. I'll brief you on the trial
  340.  that you're all about to see."
  341. So through the double doors,
  342.  into a room, he led us all.
  343. A giant central table
  344.  with twelve chairs around the wall.

  345. And once we were all in,
  346.  he coughed and solemnly did state,
  347. "Before the show commences,
  348.  there are some facts we must relate.
  349. We must ensure there is
  350.  no prior knowledge of the case:
  351. No pre-existing tie-ins
  352.  to the people or the place."

  353. Referring to his clipboard
  354.  (with his finger, once again)
  355. He read the details of the case:
  356.  the who; the where; the when;
  357. Address at which it happened;
  358.  and the name of the accused.
  359. With any prior knowledge,
  360.  we could find ourselves excused.

  361. But no-one had connections
  362.  to the matters of the crime,
  363. So no-one was relieved
  364.  of jury service at that time.
  365. "To set your expectation,
  366.  we expect the trial to need
  367. A week within the courtroom,
  368.  if the lawyers work at speed.

  369. "But please do heed my warning,
  370.  as we often face delays,
  371. The case can be be impeded
  372.  in a hundred different ways,
  373. And jurors are not needed
  374.  for those technicalities,
  375. So while they are resolved
  376.  we are released to rest at ease.

  377. "And as a consequence,
  378.  there's ample leisure time to share
  379. Just sitting in the canteen,
  380.  or the waiting bench out there.
  381. So I propose a challenge,
  382.  please indulge me my request:
  383. I think that we should set ourselves
  384.  a storytelling test.

  385. "A contest, if you'd rather,
  386.  that will help us pass the time.
  387. We each will tell a narrative,
  388.  could be in prose or rhyme,
  389. Perhaps a work of fiction,
  390.  or perhaps a story true,
  391. A tale of other characters,
  392.  or story starring you.

  393. "And I shall do the judging
  394.  once the stories are all done,
  395. Assessing the most pleasing,
  396.  or most entertaining one.
  397. The prize: I do propose
  398.  that on our final jury day,
  399. We'll order in a luncheon
  400.  and the winner need not pay.

  401. "A storytelling challenge,
  402.  where our tales we will present!
  403. So people of the jury,
  404.  please give me your consent,
  405. And if you will participate
  406.  in our amusing game
  407. Please raise your hand to indicate
  408.  (or hold it down in shame)."

  409. Then over half the jurors
  410.  raised their hands up to agree,
  411. There were some cagey stragglers,
  412.  who waited just to see
  413. Consensus of the rest
  414.  before they would participate,
  415. But they did raise their hands up,
  416.  even if a little late.

  417. The last of the abstainers
  418.  was the sporty juvenile.
  419. Eleven pairs of eyes stared on
  420.  in judgment for a while.
  421. He felt coercion from his peers
  422.  that caused him to relent:
  423. Reluctantly he raised his hand
  424.  and gave us his consent.

by Albert Semple
424 lines over 53 stanzas.