It is unfair to make jurors pay for the privilege.
It is the civic duty that some people dread and others quietly look forward to – jury service. I have always been in the latter camp, so when I received my own summons fairly recently, I was intrigued to find out what it would be like.
Whether or not you ever get selected for jury service is purely a matter of chance. But if you do receive that very official looking letter in bold-pink type, and turn up at court on your allotted day, it is still not certain that you will actually discover what it is like to sit on a trial.
Once at court, you enter the ‘jury pool room’ - a slightly shabby version of an airport lounge - where you find yourself in the lap of the gods, waiting to see if your name will be on one of the lists being called out, or if you will be heading home that day.
Some people turn up every day for two weeks, but their name is never actually called.
Even when you do hear your name, with fifteen others on the same list, you still cannot be sure that you will actually be sitting as a juror. Sixteen people will be led into the courtroom, but you are once again at the mercy of chance, as only 12 names will be called to sit down in the jury box – and four disappointed souls must return to the jury pool room, trying not to feel rejected.
For those who are not yet allocated to a trial, the jury pool room is a weirdly tense place, where people sit around with paperback books, distractedly reading the same sentence over and over, wishing that they knew what their fate was going to be that day – or at least, that’s what I was doing.
But once people are put on a trial, everything changes. There is a new sense of purpose, they are part of a defined group, and they take their duty very seriously.
So what did I learn from my own stint on jury service? Most of my time was spent waiting, and then beginning a trial that did not carry on. I never got to experience jury deliberations - which I wouldn’t be able to write about anyway, of course - but I did come out of the experience with strong faith in the jury system and its fairness. I was also impressed by the court staff, who are a hardworking, dedicated and courteous bunch, and they do their best to keep people informed and not keep them waiting around too long.
But while much of my own experience was positive, the big negative was all about money. Criminal lawyers will be only too familiar with the crumbling state of the court facilities thanks to relentless budget cuts.
But to members of the public, sitting in cramped jury annex rooms with bits of the ceiling panelling missing, electric wiring on show, or just a single toilet for both sexes because one of them isn’t working, doesn’t seem to measure up to the importance of the duty being performed. Equally, where jurors are kept waiting because a photocopier has broken, this falls below expectations.
And while folk are sitting in the jury pool room - the airport lounge bit - waiting to discover their fate, there is one topic of chat that dominates all others: parking fees. While the £5.71 daily allowance for food and drink is pretty ungenerous, it is the inability to claim parking - unless you live a considerable distance from the court - that people are really surprised about.
It seems that if there is any kind of public transport available - even if it is one bus an hour, or a route involving several buses - then jurors who choose to drive instead must meet the £10-a-day parking costs from their own pocket. It is hardly fair that people who are giving up their time should also be expected to bear such an expense.
But in these straitened times - and with nothing but further cuts on the horizon - it is sadly predictable, and not something that is likely to change any time soon.
Rachel Rothwell is editor of Litigation Funding magazine
Twitter: Follow @Rachel_Rothwell