Jury duty – what, why and how?
A jury is a panel of 12 peers who pass a final verdict after listening to a court case. In the district court they observe more serious criminal cases, and for the supreme court they observe cases which have a large monetary claim. The jury’s job is to make sure the case is impartial and matches up with the values of the community.
If you are called for jury duty in Australia, it can be a rewarding and insightful look into the Australian courts and legal system. However, taking anywhere from four days to eight weeks off just isn’t feasible for many people, so there are ways to appeal and get out of jury duty depending on your job, student status or if you’ve served jury duty before. It’s best to go online or speak to someone at the court, so you can work out what situation best applies to you.
So, how does it work and what is the jury duty process?
Well, firstly you will receive a jury duty letter. If you are definitely going to participate in a jury, then you have to first be selected for the panel; you will then generally wait until the trial starts and be sworn is as a juror. Depending on the type of case, the trial can be over and done with quickly or can take weeks to reach a conclusion. Generally a jury is called in for a case where the accused has pleaded not guilty.
As a juror, you are expected to follow these guidelines (this is taken from the NSW courts website, so specific details might vary from state to state):
- Pay full attention to the case and not bring in any unrelated materials (books, magazines, iPads etc).
- Jurors should at all times be open-minded, fair and impartial.
- If you realise in court that you know a witness, you must immediately inform the judge in a note sent via the court officer. The names of witnesses will have been read out at the start of the case, so whenever possible this should have been raised before the jury was empanelled.
- All jury discussions must occur in the jury room and only when all jurors are present.
- Do not discuss the case with any other people. You should not speak to other people in the precincts of the court. If you attend work on a day when court is not sitting, be careful not to discuss any details of the trial with your colleagues or work mates.
- You will be provided with a notebook to take notes as needed. You will have to hand this in each day, and at the end of the trial. Once the matter has been finalised, all the notebooks are destroyed.
- You may be required to go on a ‘jury view’, where you are taken to the scene of the alleged crime, with the judge and legal representatives. These visits are pre-arranged and treated like a normal trial day.
- You are not permitted to visit the alleged crime scene without the judge and legal representatives.
- During the trial, you must not use any material or research tools, including the internet, to find out further information which relates to any matter arising in the trial.
In terms of working, you will often need to take some time off from work to attend jury duty. It’s best to talk to your manager and HR, so you can work out time off and wages. Workplaces can’t ask you to refuse jury duty, but they can provide supporting documents if you are applying for exemption. Workplaces also have some basic laws to follow in regards to you being called up to duty:
In terms of the Jury Act 1977 and the Jury Amendment Act 2010, employers cannot:
Force employees to take their own leave, such as recreation or sick leave, while doing jury service. This includes the day they go to court for a jury summons.
Dismiss, injure or alter their employee’s position for doing jury service.
Ask employees to work on any day that they are serving as jurors
Ask employees to do additional hours or work to make up for time that they missed as a result of jury service
After the trial, you will be expected to talk with the other jurors and come to a decision on whether the accused is guilty or not – it is important to consider the evidence carefully. After the case, you are exempt from service for 3 years, and many courts can provide counselling and support if you feel confused or upset after a trial.
All state government websites have information about jury duty which can help answer any questions and explain what you need to do in each state.