Tuesday, March 08, 2005

My oath

about 4 years ago I was called up for Jury Duty. It would have been the third or fourth time and I STILL haven't been selected onto a Jury. Usually they take one look at me and issue an instant challenge and I find myself sitting amongst the rejects wondering what they didn't like this time .

On the most recent occasion we were taken into the court room and the judge explained the basics - including a list of the major witnesses; if you've been called up you know how it works. He explained among other things that the case would probably last 6 weeks. This was about 4 weeks before I was due to take a trip to New Zealand (personal business as opposed to company travel) on a ticket I'd already paid for. So I was one of about 50 people (of 200 or so prospective jurors) who indicated a desire to be excused from that particular case. The judge probably sighed in exasperation!

One by one we took our oaths and explained why we felt we had an especial reason to be excused from sitting on this case. It was the usual litany of reasons; one was a salesperson who couldn't afford the loss of time; another was a working mother; a third was concerned at the time away from seeking a job. (I don't know about elsewhere but in Victoria, my home state, your employer is required to make up the difference between what the state pays a juror and the normal wage that would be earned by that person).

One by one the judge listened to each excuse, asked pertinent questions; and one by one he rejected each excuse. It was beginning to look like I was going to have to run the chance of being empannelled!

In the end, of those 50 or so people who wanted to be excused only 2 were. I was one of them. The other was excused because she was related to one of the primary prosecution witnesses. Me? This is my guess as to why...

Of all the people who took an oath before proferring their excuse I was the only one who asked to take an affirmation. I'm an atheist and I won't swear on a bible. The usher seemed a trifle flustered by this. I'm guessing there aren't that many people who make a fuss about it. But I was adamant. They wanted me to take the judiciary seriously; I wanted them to understand that I'll do things honestly but I won't start by swearing to a power I don't believe in.

I'm going to go out on a limb here. I have no doubt that there are many many people who devoutly hold religious beliefs and who would feel an oath upon the bible is binding. But surely not 98% of the population! I think the judge was swayed by my insistence on taking an affirmation that what I answered in examination was in fact the truth.

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