Do I have to do jury service and what is it like?
Jury Service is a civic duty and you can therefore be called upon to be part of a jury at any point. For public policy reasons it is clear that there always needs to be sufficient people to partake in jury service and that it should cover all demographics. For that reason it is very difficult to avoid jury service, which in almost all cases is a mandatory requirement.
A jury consists of 12 randomly selected people from society who are called together to hear evidence at a criminal trial and then decide if the defendant is guilty or not guilty.
In order to qualify for jury service you must be at least 18 and no older than 70 years of age; you must be on the electoral register and have lived in the UK for at least five years since you were 13. You will not be able to be a member of a jury if you suffer from a mental health disease or have spent time in prison or youth custody in the last ten years or at any point for over five years.
Can you avoid jury service?
Whilst jury service would be recognised by almost all people in the UK as necessary in order to facilitate fair trials, many people would prefer not to partake in jury service. The reasons for this often include being busy at work and a general distaste for doing jury service given the fact it could be a long process and involve some difficult decisions.
If you do not wish to take part in jury service you must give a valid reason. A common excuse is the fact you already have a holiday booked.
This may well be valid so long as the holiday was actually booked before you were asked (and you can prove it), and if you are willing to do jury service within the next 12 months at a different date. If this is this case then your jury service will generally be deferred so long as you have not already done this within the last 12 months.
If you are simply asking to avoid jury service altogether you will generally have to provide medical proof that you are not fit to participate.
Jury service is a civic duty and should not and cannot easily be avoided. Indeed, your employer must give you paid time off to do jury service or face harsh penalties.
What to expect
When you arrive at court you will be placed in a waiting room where you may or may not be called to a trail. There will usually be more people than necessary to do jury service in case defendants are recognised by the jury (and therefore are not able to serve).
If you are not chosen, you may be chosen for a different jury on the same day or you may have to go home and return the next day to participate in a different jury.
If you are chosen to attend a hearing, you will be sworn in and made to promise to listen to the case and give a fair verdict.
Once all the evidence has been given, the judge will direct you to the deliberation room; whatever is said in the deliberation room must remain confidential and not told to anyone (including the judge).
Each member of the jury will then decide whether they believe the defendant is guilty or not guilty, and the verdict will then be delivered by a member of the jury to the judge.
Usually in criminal cases, a unanimous decision should be reached by the jury. But a judge may choose to give the jury a majority direction so that ten or more jurors must agree.
Sometimes, if not all members of the jury agree there will be a new trial with a new jury.
Jury service is a requirement of being a citizen and should not be avoided or feared. Most people who attend jury service find the process quite interesting and rewarding.