Have you reached a decision on which you all agree? – consensus and jury service

wordcloud (1)I’ve recently finished my second stint doing jury service. Jurors are cautioned not to talk about their experience of their time as jurors but trials are held in public so I am allowed to talk about information that’s in the public domain.

12_angry_men_lone_holdout.pngMy first time as a juror was around 35 years ago in the same court as now. Back then I had been involved in feminism for a few years. In discussions with friends, in women’s groups and at conferences I’d heard a number of accounts of childhood sex abuse from women of all ages and backgrounds. Almost all of them were living with not having been believed (if they’d ever had the confidence to tell anyone). It was the 1980s and it’s now common knowledge that this was widespread from the many recent celebrity sex abuse trials. At the time, I hadn’t realised my knowledge then was so unusual. I’d also had a friend who suspected she falsely remembered an occasion of familial sex abuse. She was struggling with the effects of this and we spent many hours talking about how to establish confidence in her memory.

AirFrance-managersdeshirtedAt that time I’d been involved in co-ops and collectives for around 5 years. Then, too, there was little information or training to be had about how to manage collective and collaborative decision-making. Co-ops and other non-hierarchical groups tended, in my experience, to try their best to make consensus decisions, but they just had to make up how as they went along. To say it could be stormy would be an understatement.

A Jury deliberation room in a USA Courthouse

But even with this knowledge and experience, I was unprepared for being in a jury tasked with coming to a unanimous decision on a case of alleged child sex abuse by the girl’s father. We were, in the end, instructed to return a majority verdict and I’ve had many regrets since. I’ve occasionally looked back at that jury experience and wondered if I could have done anything differently. So when I got this second call to do jury service I had very mixed feelings. Would it be as difficult as last time? How hard was it going to be to make consensus decisions? Was I more confident in my abilities to handle conflict?

In the years since I’ve been a witness in a successful prosecution at the same court, so the court itself and its processes were not a surprise. I’ve also had wide and varied work and life experiences including being a management trainer, learning a basic understanding of body language through NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming), and I’ve met a huge variety of different people. And for the past 5 years I’ve worked in Rhizome and been privileged to learn and develop a better understanding of conflict and consensus decision-making. I’ve helped facilitate some complex consensus decisions with Matthew and Adam, I’ve co-produced a webinar on consensus decision-making with Perry and I’ve trained co-op members on making consensus and strategic decisions with Maria and Kat. I’ve also worked with Carl training co-operators on working with conflict and facilitated conflict resolution in a number of co-ops, as well as been involved in conflict resolution within our own co-op. But I know I am still learning and, whilst I may know more than some, I don’t think of myself as an expert.

There’s plenty of guidance on the law given to a jury. But there’s still scant guidance to jurors on the process of how to make decisions on which everyone agrees. There’s no indication on the difference between blocking or standing aside from a decision, no guidance on consenting to a decision as opposed to agreeing to it, nothing on how people may voice concerns or how to manage people’s different understandings of what’s been said and done. And there’s no guidance on managing conflict.

JuryUnsurprisingly (you may think), on the one case that I was involved in this time that went through to the end of the trial, I ended up as the jury foreperson. I’m really pleased to say that there was little conflict and we agreed unanimous decisions. But is justice really best served without there being any guidance to juries on the options for managing conflict and making unanimous, consensus decisions?