One of the cornerstones of any democracy is its criminal justice system, and more importantly, the rights of anyone accused of a crime. They have the right to a fair trial, and to be represented by a criminal lawyer, to name but two of those rights.
The trial system also allows for those accused to be found guilty or not guilty by a jury of their peers. In other words, those sitting on a jury who make the decisions with regards to someone’s guilt are ordinary citizens.
For most people, serving on a jury is the only time they ever see the inside of a courtroom, unless of course, they have a career within the legal system, or, unfortunately, decide to commit a crime, are caught, and sent for trial. For those of you for which those two scenarios do not apply, let us take a more detailed look at jury service and who can serve on a jury.
You may be liable to serve on a jury if you are registered to vote. However, there are certain circumstances under which you may not be eligible. Anyone over the age of 75 does not need to serve, and there are several occupations that are also not liable to serve. These are mostly occupations within the legal system with examples being court offices, legal practitioners, and certain members of the police force.
There are also people who do not qualify to serve on a jury. Many of these categories relate to those who have been imprisoned, previously convicted of crime, are awaiting trial, on bail, or are awaiting sentencing.
Another category of people who might not be qualified are those who may currently be being treated under the Mental Health Act, or for whom it is considered that they are not mentally capable of understanding the nature of jury duty.
The way in which you are advised that you are to be a juror is via a summons which is normally sent several weeks prior to the date on which you are to serve.
Assuming you are eligible to serve, but for other reasons you do not wish to serve, you can ask for a deferral of jury duty for a period of up to six months. This is done by completing the deferral application form which is usually printed on the back of the jury service summons.
There are several reasons why you can ask for jury service to be deferred which include health issues, business commitments, family needs, or by showing that serving on a jury would cause you to suffer significant hardship. This last reason is often used due to the fact jury service is unpaid, and thus there is likely to be a loss of earnings.
You can also be excused jury duty altogether for a number of reasons. One that often occurs is when someone has already served jury duty and that has occurred within the previous five years.
Others include having a physical or mental disability, not understanding English well, or if you no longer live in the district or jurisdiction relating to the trial. If you know any of the parties to the trial such as the accused or the victim and there could be a risk of being unable to give an unbiased verdict, you may also be excused jury duty.
Should none of the deferral or excusal circumstances apply, you must attend jury service. The fine for ignoring a summons can be as high as $5,000.