This article was written by Michelle Makela - Legal Practice Director

Michelle has over 15 years experience in the legal industry, working across commercial litigation, criminal law, family law and estate planning.  Michelle has been involved in all practice areas of the firm and in her personal practice has had experience in litigation at all levels (state and federal industrial tribunals, the Supreme Court, Court of Appeal, the Federal Court, Federal...

Jury Duty (NSW)


While not everyone is excited about being called up for jury duty, there is a good chance that you could be at some point in your life. How are jurors selected, how much do they get paid, what are their responsibilities and what happens when jurors misbehave? This article answers some common questions about juries in New South Wales.

What is a jury?

In NSW, juries in criminal trials are usually made of 12 jurors, although sometimes juries of 15 are empanelled if a trial is expected to last longer than three months. Most criminal cases in the District and Supreme Courts are decided by a jury, and so are some large civil law cases as well as coronial inquests. Juries deciding civil cases generally consist of four members, although civil trials in the supreme court can be comprised of 12 members.

Can I get out of jury duty?

Jurors are selected from the electoral roll. A person can apply to the Sheriff’s Office to be excused from jury duty if they have a particular reason for being unable to do jury duty. A person can be excused either temporarily or permanently.

Reasons that a person can seek an exemption from jury duty are:

  1. That serving on the jury would cause them or their family undue hardship or serious inconvenience;
  2. That they have a disability which would render them suitable or incapable of serving as a juror;
  3. That the person has a conflict of interest that could result in a perception of a lack of impartiality if they were to serve as a juror; or
  4. That there is any other reason that they cannot perform the functions of a juror.

If a person is called up for jury duty and knows they are exempt from jury service, they must inform the sheriff before the day they are required to attend court. However, no matter how much a person wants to get out of jury duty, supplying false or misleading information to the Sheriff is never a good idea. This is an offence that carries a maximum penalty of a fine of $5,500.

If a person is selected for jury duty, their employer cannot dismiss or disadvantage them because of this. Doing so is a criminal offence, which can result in heavy fines, imprisonment, or an order that the employer reimburses the worker for any lost wages, as well as ordering the employer to reinstate them.

Exemptions and exclusions from jury duty

Some people are automatically ‘exempt’ from jury duty. Those who are exempt include medical practitioners, clergymen, dentists and those who work in emergency services. A person may also apply to be exempt if they have served on a jury in the last three years, have previously served on a lengthy case, or if they have been summoned for jury duty but not chosen in the last 12 months. A person can also seek an exemption if they live with and care for an ill, infirm or disabled person.

Also excluded from jury duty are persons currently serving a prison sentence and anyone who has been found guilty of a serious offence such as terrorism or some sexual offences.

What does jury duty pay?

If a person is a juror in a trial that lasts for between 1 and 10 days, they will be paid $106.30 per day. If the trial lasts for 11 days or longer, they will be paid $247.40 for each day thereafter, if they are employed. If they are not employed, they will continue to receive $106.30 per day. They will also be paid 30.7 cents per kilometre they have to travel to get to court.

Empanelment

A jury is ’ empanelled’ in a courtroom. Each juror is given a number, and these numbers are selected at random. If a person’s number is called, they make their way to one of the jury chairs. Once 12 numbers have been called, both the prosecution and defence can ‘challenge’ up to three potential jurors. If there are co-accuseds charged together, each co-accused may challenge three potential jurors. Unlike in other states and territories, in New South Wales no information about a juror, such as their profession or their age, is provided to the parties. 

Once the selection of the jury is complete, all others who have attended for jury duty are dismissed.

What happens in the jury room stays in the jury room

In the past, a jury decision had to be unanimous. However, recent changes to the law have allowed for majority verdicts in some cases. Jury deliberations must occur when all jurors are present.

The process by which a jury decided on its verdict is never allowed to be revealed. The identities of jurors are never made public. Trying to get information about how a jury arrived at its verdict or publishing information that identifies juror members are criminal offences.

These rules exist so that jurors can be open in their discussion, without fearing criticism from the media, family and friends or parties to the proceedings. They also promote the finality of the decision.

Misbehaviour of jurors

Jurors who fail to act properly can cause a mistrial. Misbehaviour of a jury can even lead to a juror being charged with contempt of court.

The jury in one Downing Centre District Court case decided to entertain themself by doing sodukus during the trial and comparing answers in the deliberating room. The three-month trial was well underway when it was revealed that five of the jurors had been solving the puzzles during court. This meant that the jury was discharged and the whole trial was started again with a new jury. 

In another Downing Centre case, a juror was seen flirting with the defendant. A court staff member noticed the foreperson flicking her hair, smiling, raising her eyebrow and “nodding in a potentially suggestive manner” at the accused. 

There are several known cases where jurors have gone online to do their own research or even planed their own visits to crime scenes, despite warnings about the penalties for doing so. The maximum penalties for a juror who makes their own enquiries into the matter being tried are a $5,500 fine and/or imprisonment for 2 years.

Back in 1994, the jury in double-murder case in the UK made headlines because of the extremely unusual method it used to determine its verdict: a Ouija board. After drinking alcohol, several jurors – in the absence of the rest of the jury – decided to use a Ouija board to ask the spirits of the deceased if the accused was their killer. The Ouija board supposedly told the jurors that the accused had done it, and to “vote guilty tomorrow.” The defendant, Stephen Young, appealed and sought a retrial. However, it appeared that the Ouija board was correct, as he was found guilty a second time.

If you require legal advice or representation in any legal matter, please contact Armstrong Legal.

WHERE TO NEXT?

If you suspect that you may be under investigation, or if you have been charged with an offence, it is vital to get competent legal advice as early as possible. Our lawyers are highly specialised in criminal law and will be able to guide you through the process while dealing with the various authorities related to your matter.

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