Court Room Jury

Reporter: Alison Fan

"The state says the accused fingerprints found in her blood on a wall near her body" The prosecutor. THEN the other side. "We the defence are equally appalled at this cold-blooded murder. But we beg you-- don't make up your mind until you've heard all the evidence. ..."

For 12 strangers. A shocking new experience.One they never forget. "It's such a big change to your or my normal life"Russell says "it is a traumatic experience you do go into some very very personal; very very aggravated discussion which all things being equal, I'd rather not have had."

The chief justice says "often of course people are exposed through sitting in court and listening to evidence to things that we're often not exposed to in ordinary day to day life and we want to avoid any situation in which a person might be traumatised in the long term by reason of that experience and so we make counselling services available to them"

This is Courtroom No TWO ... in Perth's Supreme Court... For the first time in WA --Today Tonight cameras given special permission to show you what EIGHTY FOUR THOUSAND West Australians are summonsed to do every year. Decide the fate of a complete stranger. It's not voluntary. It's compulsory.

For Cottesloe --mother and housewife -Karen --it was a gruesome murder trial. The killer a young woman. "It was horrible. It was a horrible case --one that I'd never wish anyone to go through...and that's what got to me at the end of it all. I didn't think I was being affected by it but in the end I couldn't help talking about it probably because we were told we weren't allowed to talk about it, and then when a good friend made a remark I burst into tears"

WA's Chief Justice Wayne Martin also allowed us to show you for the first time --this Supreme Court jury room where for the past 100 years the fate of thousands of West Australians has been decided. Jurors locked together for weeks at a time arguing over some else's life:

Software engineer Russell said the worst part of a fraud trial-- was being bullied and abused by fellow jurors: "All I know is that I was locked in a room for seven days with some people who at the end of it who really, really didn't like me ... it started getting very personal started with threats and insults being thrown around the room in terms of isn't it obvious he's guilty not progressing a debate but trying to bull, push someone into a decision...its not all in the movies it is something happens in real life --you end up with 12 men and women who are very angry, very tired, very hungry and desperately want to go home but they need to decide something and sometimes one person in the room or two people are holding out and they see them as standing in their way and if it takes bad habit of brow beating to get them to agree ...then that's what happens".

Doing your civic duty means putting your own life on hold...sometimes for months..."You're Honour we estimate the crown case will take about six weeks. Despite agreements between state and defence there are still some 83 witnesses to be called..."

Western Australia has very strict jury laws protecting our jury system.

Laws that prevent jurors revealing specific details about specific cases.

Laws designed to protect them from emotional outcomes.

"We don't want people doing jury duty feeling they might be intimidated by being approached after their jury service or indeed during their jury service so there are strict laws to protect the identity and integrity of the jury system." But jurors say they often feel they are over protected...Excluded from many legal arguments but for those making the final decision --frustration -- at being seen and not heard.

Russell says "the part that was particularly frustrating for me was I can't go to the prosecution or the defence and say for love of god --if you just said this --it wouldn't have gone this long"

Karen says "we would have loved to have been able to say yes the person committed the crime but it was because of what was happening. But we're not allowed to --you just make a decision did they do it or didn't they"

Chief justice Wayne Martin says "sometimes there are issues that have to be discussed in the absence of the jury so that the trial can proceed fairly...things like for example the prior record of the accused person. Jurors are not allowed to know that for a very good reason and that is so they will base their decision on the evidence they hear in the court and not on some pre-conceived idea of someone because of their prior record." Jurors are always urged to put personal feelings aside. But that doesn't always happen:

Perth Lawyer Judith Fordham who's just published a new book on her life from bashed wife to barrister...is the first person in WA allowed to interview jurors on just what goes on in this room and ... and in their minds. "The ones who have trouble are the ones who might say -- I feel sorry for his mum sitting in the back of the court --but the others will round them up and say you cant think like that ...the judge said --have to listen to the evidence you cant feel sympathy"

Russell says "it wasn't direct physical threats --it was more just a sense of come on we all want to get out of here...lets just make a decision ..Can't you tell there are 10 or us in the room that all agree so you must be wrong --so let's all agree and move on. " Then the most stressful part of all: "Ladies and gentlemen of the jury have you agreed upon your verdict.,"

Karen says "as foreman the worst part is having to answ4er the judge's questions at the end of the trial..Apart from that just walk in first and walk out last . Around the table just an equal" Even worse --when there is no verdict.

The judge says "Before I discharge you members of the jury on behalf of the community I'd like to thank you all for doing your civic duty .." For the jury --the end of it all. But for many -- by no means over: Simon says "they do their duty, they come back and bring in their verdict and if it is one of guilty and in a case of wilful murder it is a very heavy atmosphere in the courtroom when the jury return perhaps after deliberating for six hours two days three days and they'll often be linked in arms heads bowed crying ...."

The chief justice says "it's been here for several hundred years and there are many positive benefits to the jury system..The first is it enables community involvement in the criminal process another good reason for keeping the jury system is that it involves the application of community standards so that through a representative group the community can through that group determine what should or should not be regarded as unlawful conduct" Karen says "I think it is our duty to do it I just wouldn't wish it on anyone...got someone's life in your hands...."