“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 Courts. We explain how jury duty works and your obligations are if you are selected to serve as a juror.
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.
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.
Certain people are excluded from serving on a jury. You may be excluded if you:
You can claim an exemption from jury duty if you:
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.
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 object to a juror, that juror is excused.
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 jury duty.
Further, your employer cannot force you to take accrued holidays or sick leave to serve on a jury.
In a criminal trial 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.
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.
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: