As avid listeners of The Archers, we are used to sniggering over Linda Snell’s unintended double entendres, or marvelling at the size of Bert Fry’s (insert vegetable of choice here) for the Flower and Produce Show. The omnibus edition of The Everyday Story of Country Folk has long been our Sunday escape from the seamier side of life we usually deal with.
However, these past few months have led us to take a more professional look at events in Ambridge.
The long-running saga of Helen and Rob Titchener culminated this week in the trial of Helen for the attempted murder of her husband. Listeners were shocked by the dramatic turn of events which saw the appearance of a surprise last-minute witness, and the expulsion of a jury member for talking about the case on Twitter.
As private investigators, we spend a lot of time in court and we have also recently attended jury service, so we have seen court proceedings from both sides.
Let’s start with the juror who was thrown off the trial for tweeting comments about Helen. When you are on a jury, you may have your phone with you in the courtroom, but obviously it has to be switched off. Once you retire to start your deliberations, you have to hand your phone over to the court officer. No phones or tablets/ipads are allowed in the deliberation room. In The Archers scenario, the jury member can only have made his comments outside court.
Commenting on or discussing a trial whilst serving on a jury with anyone other than your fellow jury members, is forbidden. You cannot even discuss a trial once it is over. To do so is considered to be Contempt of Court. There are severe penalties for this, from hefty fines to imprisonment. Whilst this may seem Draconian, it is vital for the preservation of our jury system, and the right for everyone to have a free trial.
When beginning jury service, you are asked to swear an oath promising that you will try the case only on the evidence presented to you. To discuss the case outside court, especially on social media, inevitably invites the opinions of those other than your fellow jurors. And of course, it does not end here. We have written before about the dangers of trial by social media, which in some instances have resulted in the collapse of a trial.
In The Archers, the juror concerned shared his prejudices about Helen online, but not with the other jurors. As such, the trial was allowed to proceed with only 11 jurors.
Prior to this surprising turn of events, listeners were treated to yet another dramatic twist, with the last-minute appearance of Rob’s ex-wife Jess coming forward to state that Rob had raped her during their marriage. On the face of it, this may have been viewed by some as a bit of dramatic licence, designed to titillate the ever-growing audience and move the plot forward.
In fact, this can and does happen in real life. We do a lot of work for barristers and solicitors prior to trial commencing. Part of our job can be to find witnesses who are prepared to come forward and give their version of events in court. Usually, barristers may have a list of potential witness statements, and they decide who to call before the trial starts, giving a list of defence witnesses to the judge and the prosecution team.
However, it can happen that a witness may only decide to come forward once a trial has begun. In this instance, an exception can be made to the requirement to name witnesses in advance of a trial. Although the prosecution may be critical of the fact that the defence decides to call a last-minute witness, they cannot stop them from calling that witness to give evidence.
Dramatising court proceedings, especially on the radio, is never going to feel true to life. Courts can be intimidating, dull, somewhat demoralising places, and most trials do not have the dramatic scenarios witnessed in The Archers. But they can and do happen, so events in Ambridge this week are not as far-fetched as one might have thought. For those interested readers, the verdict comes in an hour long special on Sunday evening (oh and Nigel Havers is on the jury – yes, really). Right, we’re off for a pint of Shires….