“Sorry, I need to look after my cat”.
“I’m allergic to air conditioning”.
“I can’t serve as a juror because I’ll fall asleep in the trial”.
Each of these have been used a “reason” to be excused from Jury Duty, however, each of them has been rejected by the Courts. We explain how jury duty works and what your obligations are if you are selected to serve as a juror.
Why have I been chosen for Jury Duty?
Jurors are randomly selected from the jury roll in a particular area. The jury roll is compiled based on information supplied by the Australian Electoral Commission.
Generally, if you are qualified to vote, you can serve as a juror.
Do I Have to Attend Jury Duty?
Yes. If you have not been excluded or excused and do not attend, you will be sent a letter asking you to explain why you were absent. If your explanation is not accepted, a fine of up to $2,200 can apply.
Jury Duty Exclusions
Certain people are excluded from serving on a jury. You may be excluded if you:
Have been convicted of certain serious offences;
Have served a term of imprisonment within the last seven to ten years;
Have been found guilty of an offence and detained in a detention centre or juvenile facility in the past three years;
Are currently bound by a court order relating to a charge or conviction (such as parole, community service order, AVO, good behaviour bond, bail or remand, or an order disqualifying the person from driving);
Are employed in public service, law enforcement, criminal investigation, the provision of legal services, or the administration of justice;
Are an undischarged bankrupt.
Jury Duty Exemptions
You can claim an exemption from jury duty if you:
Are a practising dentist, pharmacist, or medical practitioner;
Are part of the clergy;
Are employed or engaged in emergency services provision;
Care for children or others who have a mental or physical impairment;
Are a sole trader or contractor
Medical needs enabling absence and inability to attend;
Served as a juror in the past three years, or attended court when required for jury duty (but did not serve) in the last 12 months;
Have study commitments that are unable to be missed.
There are a number of other people who are excluded or may be excused. Importantly, you must apply to be excused. Generally, each case is decided on its merits. Supporting documentation such as a medical certificate or a student timetable can be used to be excused from the justice system.
Will I be part of the jury?
Some people may be excused from duty. If you recognise any of the names of or know the accused, witnesses or police officers involved in the case you may be excused. Following this process, jurors are selected from a random ballot.
Even after this process, both the prosecution and defence have the opportunity to object to potential jurors. Both parties may make three objections. If the prosecution or defence objects to a juror, that juror is excused.
Jury Duty Employer Responsibilities
Your employer must release you for jury service, and employers are liable to severe penalties if they fire, or otherwise disadvantage you because of your absence for attending jury service.
Further, your employer cannot force you to take accrued holidays or sick leave to attend court for jury selection.
When is a jury used?
In criminal trials in the District Court or Supreme Court, there are usually 12 jurors. The jury must come to a unanimous conclusion. If the jury cannot reach a unanimous verdict after a significant period of time, and it is unlikely that the jury will reach such a verdict, a majority verdict may be accepted. A majority verdict is one agreed to by 11 out of 12 jurors.
If the court determines that it is unlikely that the jury will reach a majority verdict, the court may discharge the jury and a retrial may occur.
Obligations as a Juror
Jurors are the sole judges of the facts. This means that it is generally up to jurors to decide what evidence to accept and what to reject. One aspect of this role is deciding whether or not to accept the evidence of witnesses by judging their truthfulness and reliability. It is possible to reject some things that a witness says but accept other things.
Ultimately, jurors hear the evidence and apply the law (as directed by the judge) to the facts to decide if a person is guilty or not guilty of an offence. The judge may give the jury warnings about how to apply the law or how to approach certain evidence. Jurors are required to apply this law, but deciding the verdict is solely the responsibility of the jury.
Jury members must take an oath or affirmation at the beginning of a trial to ‘give a true verdict according to the evidence’. This means that jurors have an obligation to consider the evidence fairly and without prejudice to either party and must come to a verdict based on the evidence in the trial.
As a juror are there things I can’t do?
Jury members have a number of other important obligations while serving on a jury. First, members must not tell anyone about the deliberations of the jury or how the jury (or a member of the jury) came to a certain conclusion that arose in the trial. Doing so can result in a fine of $2,200.
Jurors cannot make an enquiry to gain further information about the accused or any matters relating to the trial, except in the proper exercise of their duty (in the courtroom). This includes doing things like checking an internet database, viewing a certain place or object (outside of the trial environment) or conducting an experiment. This is important because the jury must come to a conclusion about the offence charged, rather than incidents surrounding an allegation, and their verdict must be based solely on the evidence produced by each party.
Making further enquiries is a criminal offence under the Jury Act. The maximum penalty for such conduct is 2 years’ imprisonment, or $5,500 fine or both.
Jurors can report any suspected misconduct or irregularity of other members of the jury.
‘Irregularity’ is defined in the Jury Act to include:
The commission by the juror of an offence under the Jury Act or any other misconduct;
A juror becoming excluded from jury service;
The refusal of the juror to take part in the jury’s deliberations;
The juror’s lack of capacity to take part in the trial (including an inability to speak or comprehend English);
The juror’s inability to be impartial because of the juror’s familiarity with the witnesses, parties, or legal representatives in the trial, any reasonable apprehension of bias or conflict of interest on the part of the juror, or any similar reason.