The ability of jurors to judge evidence in complicated fraud and murder cases has recently been questioned by Parliament. At the same time, reporter JOHN HIGGINSON was a juror on a £7-million fraud case lasting 10 weeks ...

Letter of attendance in hand I eagerly appeared at Southwark Crown Court at 9.15am on June 2 with the other 60 or so members of the public.

When a video was shown about jury service I watched it avidly, with little knowledge I would see (or at least hear it) nine more times.

Southwark Crown Court is one of the biggest Crown courts in the country, the average time spent on jury service is two weeks, the video would announce each Monday.

I waited three hours before my name was finally called on the first day before meeting the 11 other jurors, who over the course of the case I would get to know intimately.

The nurse addicted to Pepsi, the gay Buddhist bodybuilder, the 6ft 8in retired soldier, the solicitors’ clerk, the Muslim taxman who loved puzzles, the bouncer who spent every spare moment sleeping or chatting up women, the drag queen bank clerk with a bagful of crosswords and all the other characters.

Before being sworn into Court 8 we were (mis)informed the case would last between six to eight weeks and told to let our employers know — my editor groaned, not for the first or last time.

The defendant, William Cook, aged 78, a Canadian accountant, was accused by the Crown of conspiring to defraud by offering a monthly interest of between 10 and 35 per cent on investments in a high-yield programme during 1999 with no aim of paying it back.

The fraud took place, with many people losing their life savings — this was not contested. But Mr Cook’s defence was he was duped by fraudsters into letting one or more of them use his account to launder money.

He believed the money being sent to his offshore account was from legitimate business commissions. He was grilled in the witness box for 15 days by the prosecution and defence barristers on the issue.

We pored over around 800 pages of faxes, bank statements, letters, notes and minutes of meetings, studying and learning about a world we previously knew little if anything about.

By the end of it we knew about certificates of deposit, medium-term notes, treasury bills and the buying and selling of pieces of paper worth millions of pounds.

We chased figures from accounts in London to offshore banks in the Caribbean and to companies in Australia, USA and Canada.

And we listened to witnesses flown from the American Deep South and Scotland Yard’s serious fraud unit.

It was at times complex, interesting and boring — sometimes all within one morning.

Being a juror was one of the most important things I have ever done and we were all acutely aware of those, including our own Government, who felt we were not up to the job.

On July 15 the House of Lords threw out a Commons bill to remove automatic trial by jury in major cases.

I will never forget the experience of standing up and telling the court our unanimous verdict of not guilty as Mr Cook stood shaking in his suit and him mouthing thank-you to us as we left.

MPs will debate changes to the jury system proposed in the Criminal Justice Bill in the autumn.