Original article published in the Irish Examiner https://www.irishexaminer.com/lifestyle/artsandculture/arid-40729236.html
By EOGHAN O’SULLIVAN
‘Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury’ is the latest episode from Yarn: A Story Podcast, the brainchild of John Roche. A 90-minute documentary, it gives listeners a vivid look at serving on a jury. He talks to seven former jurors about their varied experiences as well as barrister Seamus Clarke SC who gives an overview of the legal system and why certain things are the way they are.
Where did the idea for 'Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury' come from? A friend of mine had recently done jury duty and he said I should make a documentary about the experience, mainly because he was interested in other people’s experiences and how they compared to his. It’s also something I’m always interested in hearing about. If I’m in the pub and I find out someone at my table has done jury duty, I end up probing them about it, usually for far longer than I should.
It's part of Yarn: A Story Podcast. Tell us about that. Yarn is a documentary and storytelling podcast. I have about 23 different stories now, each of varying lengths and in different styles. Most episodes are standalone but I’ve also released some bigger stories as part of a series. The subjects I choose are pretty varied. I’ve done a three-part mini-series on the history of Disability, another two-part mini-series about a Nazi spy that landed in Ireland during the emergency. I’ve taken listeners on a trip around the Chernobyl exclusion zone, on a ride-along with a New York police officer and into the bizarre palace of a corrupt dictator. It’s a bit of a storytelling playground.
Did you think of making the show a standalone, six-part series rather than one 90-minute documentary? The format each story should take is definitely something I wrestle with every time and this is the longest standalone episode I’ve done so far. It’s also one of the best things about podcast documentaries; I’m not restricted to repeating a format or to making a story fit to a particular length. You’re right, this could have been chopped up into various parts but I was keen to show the experience of jury duty from start to finish, without pausing and without needing to include recaps for each part. I also wanted it to be easy to follow and understand which juror was which. I thought if I spread it across episodes each juror would have to be represented in each part or you might forget who’s who. Or I’d have to dedicate each episode to one juror but I love how their voices overlap and build on each other. I actually love hearing debates about narrative formats, whether it’s about TV, film or audio. If people can take a break whenever they want, is it as important how long something is? I Still think it’s good to give people natural breaks or chapters in some stories, it just depends on the story you’re telling.
**How did you find the jurors? ** I found most of them through friends of friends and just asking around. It took quite a while. One or two I had already known. A couple were hesitant at first. I think because it’s not often they have heard jurors taking in the media. When I told them I had a barrister involved and I’d make sure nothing they said was breaking any laws or that it wouldn’t have any adverse effect on their cases, then they were fine to open up about it. Finding an experienced criminal barrister to talk about their work was the hardest bit. I approached several before one finally agreed to be recorded.
Were you surprised at how honest they were? Yes, I definitely was. Most of the jurors I talked to had amazing recall when it came to describing not just the detailed circumstances that were involved but also their feelings, thoughts and conflicts they had while going through the process. Like one of the jurors said, ‘it weighs on you, all through the trial, even when you go home’. Some had trouble sleeping, I think, because they were not allowed to talk about it. And most of them actually didn’t talk about it to anyone outside the jury room while the trial was active, that’s also something that surprised me, how seriously they all took it. It was their full-time job for those few days or weeks. I think they were so honest because once they got started they were eager to get it off their chest. Almost like it was a form of therapy for them. Like the last juror said, it’s shocking that there isn’t any counselling support offered to jurors after a trial wraps.
How many hours of audio did you have to work with and how many hours went into the editing process? I probably did almost two hours with everyone, that's about 16 hours. That's not too bad. The editing process is my favourite part so the more I have the better I think. It took me a few weeks to pull it all together but then as soon as I had a finished edit, a new juror contacted me. They had just finished a trial two days previously so I had to talk to them. I ended up ripping apart bits of what I had so I could include that juror.
What's next for Yarn? More audio documentaries for sure. Not exactly sure when or what the next one will be about yet. If anyone reading this has any ideas, I encourage them to reach out to me. I’m always interested in new stories. I’d also love to turn my series on disability into a filmed documentary series but I’m not sure how to make that happen yet.
And did making this episode make you more or less eager to finally be called to a jury? It sounds so interesting to peek inside the justice system but if I was to get a tough case, I’m not so sure I’d be as enthused as I once was to take a seat on a jury.