For many people, the only involvement that a person has with the criminal justice system is a piece of mail that says that your name has been pulled out of a hat and that you’re to attend Court for jury duty. You may know someone who has had to sit on a jury and pass judgement on a particular matter and those people are generally more than happy to tell you about their case and whether they thought that the offender was guilty or not.
The jury is an essential pillar in the criminal justice system and helps ensure that a person who is accused of a crime receives a fair trial. Juries have been around in the criminal justice system for nearly a thousand years and they act as a safe guard against any prejudices any one person may have against an accused. If a single person was to determine guilt alone then that person will be limited by their own life experiences and prejudices. With a panel of 12 jury members it limits the risk of individual prejudices from affecting the outcome of a case and can draw on the life experiences of all 12 of the jury members.
HOW WAS I SELECTED TO BE ON A JURY AND WHAT HAPPENS WHEN I ATTEND?
People are selected to participate in jury duty through the electoral role with the Electoral Commission providing the Courts with the names of the people selected for jury duty. Think of it as a lottery without the millions in prize money.
If you are selected for jury duty you will be required to attend the nominated Court at a time and date listed on your notice. Just because you have received a notice that you have been selected for jury duty, it does not necessarily mean that you will be sitting on a jury.
When you arrive at the Court you will be given a number and the Judge will begin the selection process by calling out random numbers. If your number is called it means that you have been selected to sit on the jury unless the defence or prosecution object to you being selected as a jury member.
If you have been selected to sit on the jury then you will need to attend Court for as long as the case takes which may be a day or several weeks. If you are not selected to sit on a jury you may be discharged from jury duty and can return to work or alternatively you may be asked to return on another day depending on when the Court has trials listed.
WHAT ABOUT MY WORK? I STILL NEED TO EARN A LIVING
Your employer is required by law to permit you to attend jury duty and to continue to pay you even though you are not working. If your employer fails to do this then they may be liable to pay fines for not complying with the legislation.
If you are self-employed and are empanelled on a jury for a substantial period of time then there are provisions that allow jurors to be paid compensation for attending. An application will need to be made to the Court for such compensation.
BUT WHY DO I HAVE TO DO IT, CAN’T WE GET PROFESSIONAL JURORS?
The jury system is established on the basis that a finding of guilty should be judged by 12 of the accused’s peers, being members of society. Those who sit on a jury are supposed to be a random sample of the population consisting of a wide demographic of people.
Jurors are assumed not to have an in-depth understanding of the law and its technicalities. It is for this reason that lawyers are not permitted to be empanelled as a member of a jury. If professional jury members were created then those people would not represent an accurate sample of the population and the jury wouldn’t function as an independent selection of the accused’s peers.
WHAT DO I DO WHEN I AM PUT ON JURY?
The most important thing a jury member can do is to pay careful attention to the evidence being presented by witnesses and to listen to the directions given by the Judge. Being a jury member is hard work and takes a lot of concentration.
Jury members need to also be aware of their responsibilities not to discuss the case with people other than their fellow jury members whilst the case is still ongoing and to be honest in their opinions when deliberating on a person’s guilt. Jury duty is something that should be taken very seriously because the consequences can be severe for the community and the person on trial.
There are certain provisions that provide for a person selected for jury duty to be released from service. If you want advice as to how you might be released from jury duty or you know someone who is facing criminal charges, please don’t hesitate to call us to make an appointment for some advice.
About the author:
Aaron Plenderleith is a Perth lawyer at Lynn & Brown Lawyers. Aaron was admitted to practice law in Western Australia and practices in criminal law, commercial and Wills and Estates.