A Guide To Juries
A jury is a group of people who have been chosen at random from the electoral register to listen to all of the facts in a trial, in a law court to decide if a person is guilty or not guilty. More than 400,000 people are selected for compulsory jury service each year and a jury should represent a cross section of society; therefore any individual on the electoral register aged between 18 and 75 is liable for Jury Service and can be called at any time via a Jury Summons which arrives in the post.
Typically, jurors are required to be available for up to 10 days, but sometimes it can be longer. The court will not pay you to serve on a jury; however, you can claim expenses such as loss of earnings (if your employer does not pay you), food, drink, travel and accommodation. There are also some circumstances whereby you are not permitted be part of a jury. So if you have been imprisoned in the last 10 years, on probation or sentenced to community service, it could be an offence for you to serve on a jury.
What if you’re not available, can you opt out?
It’s important to note that once you are summoned for Jury Service, you are obliged by law to complete the duty – unless you have acceptable personal circumstances or pre-booked events. So if you’re unable to fulfill the dates stated on your Jury Summons you may be able to delay jury service. So whether you have booked a holiday, have an operation scheduled or been told by your employer that you can’t have the time off work, you can ‘defer’ jury service by writing to the Jury Central Summoning Bureau explaining why you will be unavailable, however, you will need to include evidence and provide dates as to when you will be available. You can only defer Jury Service once, however, you may be ‘excused’ for Jury Service if you have special circumstances, for example, if you’re suffering from severe morning sickness or are expecting a baby imminently. You may also be excused if you are looking after very young children or very elderly relatives, however, cases will be always be reviewed and considered on their individual merits.
What cases will you be called for?
You may be requested to sit in on any type of civil or criminal case, though it is most likely you’ll be involved in criminal hearings. Most serious crimes are tried in a Crown Court so you may be asked to try cases such as burglary, fraud, sexual assault, manslaughter and murder. You are not required to have any prior knowledge on a given case, or the legal system as a whole. As discussed, your role is to evaluate the evidence presented and make decisions based on your understanding and opinions of the case. The prosecution and defence teams will always provide criminal knowledge, so you will need to bear in mind their arguments, taking the evidence and facts they present into account.
What are your main responsibilities?
The jury consists of 12 members of the public who sit in a box to one side of the judge. One of the jurors will be selected as a ‘foreman’ or ‘forewoman’ before the case starts, acting as an informal chairperson and spokesperson for the jury. As a member of the jury, you will help reach a verdict by considering only the evidence introduced in court and the directions of the judge. That said, it’s important to understand the jury does not interpret the law, and you will follow the directions of the judge on legal matters. Throughout all stages of the trial, you can take notes on the proceedings if you find this helps, and you can pass these on to the foreman or forewoman, and they can then ask the judge to explain certain aspects of the case.
Reaching a verdict
When all of the evidence has been given, the prosecution and then the defence will make their closing speeches to convince you and your fellow jury members of their cases. The judge will then summarise their arguments, detailing the facts of the case and ensuring you understand the relevant law. They will also offer advice before you retire so it’s important to listen carefully and take their comments on board. You can then discuss the case with fellow jury members inside the jury room, yet absolutely no communication is permitted outside of this room (except through the jury keepers).
Once the trial has concluded, you’ll be given an issue paper that states the issues the jury must consider in reaching its verdict. When a jury consists of more than 12 members, only 12 are selected to consider the verdict. A Court Garda or another official is required to keep the jury together until the verdict is reached. In a criminal case, a verdict does need not be unanimous where there are no fewer than 11 jurors if 10 of them agree on a verdict after considering the case for a reasonable time (not less than two hours). In a civil trial, a verdict may be reached by a majority of 9 of the 12 members. When the jury has reached its decision, you and your fellow jury members will return to the court and the verdict will be read out by the foreman or forewoman. The jury has absolutely no role in sentencing and this decision is for the judge, following submissions made by both sides.
In the case of a hung jury
A ‘hung jury’ occurs is when a jury is unable to reach a verdict. If a jury has had a majority direction but still cannot reach a verdict, they will often send a note to the judge who can then decide to ‘discharge’ the jury. The chance of this happening may be rare, however, once a hung jury is discharged, the usual practice is for the defendant to be tried again by a different jury.
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