If you’re obsessed with true crime podcasts and TV shows, the day a jury duty letter comes in the mail might just be the day you’ve been waiting for to finally fulfil your real-life fantasy. But for others, jury duty has long been attached to the negative stigma of being wildly inconvenient, especially for people who run their own business or young families.
This article has everything you need to know about the jury system in NSW and should dissipate any stress or concerns about the process.
What is a summons notice and why have I received one?
Congratulations, you’ve been selected for jury duty! It sounds like a game show or the lotto, but unfortunately nobody walks away with millions of dollars. Jury Service plays a central role in our justice system. It allows members of the community to play an active role in the administration of justice.
Your name is randomly selected from the jury roll for your district, based on information on the Australian Electoral Commission.
Most people in NSW will have at some point received a letter called a ‘notice of inclusion’. This lets you know that you may be selected in future and doesn’t require any immediate action. The ‘summons’ is the official document to watch out for. While it sounds terrifying like something out of the 1900s, it’s straight forward.
If you get one in the mail, you can’t ignore it. A summons is usually sent out one month before you’re required to attend court, so you have plenty of time to talk to your employer or family to plan.
One important thing to point out is that just because you are given a summons notice, doesn’t mean you are automatically on the jury in a trial. Only around one in ten people who are sent a summons actually end up serving on the jury panel. The summons will have all the important details you need to know like which court to go to (District or Supreme Court), the address, date and time, estimated length of the trial and whether the case will be criminal or civil.
Can I be excused from jury service?
You can only apply to be excused from jury service if you have “good cause”. Certain people are excluded from serving on a jury, for example if you’ve been in prison in the last 10 years or currently bound by a court order for a criminal offence. Some are ineligible due to their occupation in law enforcement or criminal investigations, while others can ask to be excluded.
You can apply to be excluded if you are a practising dentist, pharmacist or medical practitioner, a carer of children, ill or disabled people, or live further than 65km from the courthouse.
If you can prove that jury service would cause “undue hardship” or “serious inconvenience” to you and your family, you will be excused. If you’re worried or unsure, you can always visit the Juror NSW website.
You must go to court unless you have been excused. If you don’t attend, you’ll be sent a letter asking to explain why. If that reason isn’t accepted, you could cop a fine of up to $2,200.
But before you start worrying about whether your boss will let you go, employers “must release employees for jury service” under the Jury and Fair Work Act and face severe penalties if they don’t. Your employer also can’t force you to take holidays or sick leave to perform jury duty.
Will I get paid?
If you attend court on the first day of your summons for more than four hours but are not selected as a juror, you will be paid a travel and attendance allowance. Selected jurors who are not paid their full wage or salary by their employer for the time they serve on a jury, will also receive an allowance for each day you attend court. In NSW, if the trial you are sitting on goes for between one and 10 days, you get $106.30 per day, however if the trial goes on for 11 days or longer, you get paid $247.40 for each day thereafter, if you are employed. If you are not employed, you continue to receive $106.30 per day. You also receive 30.7 cents per kilometre you have to travel to get to court.
What can I expect when I come to court?
On the last working day before your summons, you must check that you’re still required to attend court. The best way to do this is on the Juror NSW website where you can also set up SMS alerts.
On arrival to court, you’ll be directed to the jury assembly area where you’ll be asked to show ID and given a juror card that contains a “unique identifying number” (this is for privacy reasons). People who want to be excused from Jury Service will have their applications considered. If you’ve previously had your request rejected, you can apply again at this point. Be prepared for delays on this day. We highly recommend bringing a book or downloading the Lawfully Explained podcast.
What happens with the jury selection process?
When a trial is ready to commence, a group of potential jurors will be taken to the court room. A list of people involved in the case will be read out (these could be witnesses, the accused and police officers). If you recognise any of the names or know anyone associated with the trial, you need to tell the judge.
Juror numbers (the unique identifying number you received at the start of the day) will be selected at random from a ballot box. If your number is called, you will take a seat in the jury box. Once 12 numbers have been called, the prosecution and defence have the legal right to challenge (reject) three potential jurors.
This can’t be a personal criticism, like you might have seen in the movies. After this process is finished, the selected jurors will be asked to swear an oath or make an affirmation, to carry out the task “faithfully and impartially”.
If you are excused from attending Jury Service, your name will remain on the roll and you could be summoned again.