Juries

Contributor: W Benjamin Lindner

Criminal juries decide whether an alleged offender is “guilty” or “not guilty”. Civil juries decide the amount of compensation awarded to the claimant (if any). The Juries Act 2000 (Vic) outlines those who are liable, disqualified or ineligible for jury service.

Kinds of jury service

Criminal juries consist of 12 people who decide whether a person on trial in the County or Supreme Courts is “guilty” or “not guilty”. Where a criminal trial is expected to be lengthy, up to 15 people can be selected to the jury. If necessary at the end of the trial, and before the jury retires to consider its verdict, the jury is reduced by ballot to 12.

Civil juries, in many cases, determine what compensation or damages (if any) a person should receive. A civil jury consists of six people, but can in some cases be increased to not more than eight people.

For detailed information on jury service and access to the Victoria Law Foundation’s free publication, the Juror’s Handbook, go to the Courts and Tribunals Victoria website at www.courts.vic.gov.au and click on “Jury Service”. The Juror’s Handbook can also be downloaded for free from the Victoria Law Foundation website at www.victorialawfoundation.org.au.

Liability for jury service

Jury service in Victoria is governed by the Juries Act 2000 (Vic) (“Juries Act”). One of the purposes of this Act is to make juries more representative of the wider Victorian community.

Every person aged eighteen years or above who is enrolled as an elector for the Legislative Assembly and Legislative Council of Victoria is qualified and liable for jury service. This is unless a person is:

disqualified from jury service; or

ineligible for jury service (s 5 Juries Act).

The people who are disqualified from jury service are set out in schedule 1 of the Juries Act and include those who:

within the past two years have been sentenced for an offence by a court;

within the past two years have been convicted or found guilty of an offence and placed on an undertaking to the court;

at any time have been convicted of one or more indictable offences and sentenced to a total of three years or more in prison;

within the past five years have been in prison for less than three months; or served an intensive correction order, suspended sentence or sentence at a youth training centre; or served a community-based order or a community corrections order;

within the past 10 years have been in prison for more than three months (excluding any imprisonment for failure to pay a fine) or have been on parole;

are on bail for an indictable offence; or

are undischarged bankrupts.

The people who are ineligible for jury service are set out in schedule 2 of the Juries Act and include those who are, or who in the past 10 years have been:

a judge, magistrate or holder of a judicial office;

a bail justice;

admitted to legal practice in Victoria;

a member of the police force; or

the Ombudsman or an employee of the Ombudsman.

Also included as ineligible under schedule 2 of the Juries Act are people who:

are employed in connection with legal practice by a person admitted to legal practice in Victoria;

have a physical disability that prevents them from performing the duties of jury service;

are patients within the meaning of the Mental Health Act 2014 (Vic);

have an intellectual disability within the meaning of the Disability Act 2006 (Vic);

are under a guardianship and/or administration order; or

are unable to communicate in or adequately understand the English language.

If a person is liable for jury service (that is, a voter who is not either disqualified or ineligible) then they may apply to be temporarily or permanently excused from jury service for good reason (ss 8, 9 Juries Act).

The body making this decision is the:

Juries Commissioner’s Office

Ground floor, County Court Building, 250 William Street, Melbourne Vic 3000

Tel: 8636 6800

Post-trial counselling and debriefing: 8636 6812

Email: juries@courts.vic.gov.au

Web: www.courts.vic.gov.au/jury-service

The types of circumstances that will amount to a good reason to be excused from jury service are set out in the Juries Act and include:

illness or poor health;

incapacity;

too long a distance to travel to jury service;

substantial hardship to the person if made to attend jury service;

substantial inconvenience to the public if the person is made to attend jury service;

care of dependants and alternative care is not reasonably available; and

advanced age.

The process to get excused involves proving the good reason to the Juries Commissioner by evidence on oath (either oral or by affidavit), by statutory declaration or by other means deemed appropriate by the Juries Commissioner (s 8(4) or s 9(5)). If the commissioner refuses an application for excuse or deferral, the commissioner must notify the person of the decision.

If a person is unhappy with the decision an appeal can be lodged with the Juries Commissioner within 14 days of the notification of the decision or before the date on which the person is required to attend for jury service (whichever is the sooner). The Supreme or County Courts decide the appeal and these courts can extend the time for lodging the appeal.

As well as the Juries Commissioner, a court can excuse a person from jury service (s 11) and a court can also determine that a person not perform jury service if it thinks it is just and reasonable to do so (s 12).

Procedure for selecting jurors

Jury districts

The Supreme Court and the County Court of Victoria hear cases in Melbourne and also at Ballarat, Bendigo, Geelong, Hamilton, Horsham, Mildura, Sale, Shepparton, Wangaratta and Warrnambool. The County Court of Victoria can also sit in Bairnsdale, Kerang and Morwell. The electoral district or districts around each of these towns is called the jury district for that town, and people enrolled in that jury district are liable to serve as jurors in cases at that town (s 18 Juries Act).

Jury rolls

At least every 12 months the Juries Commissioner must notify the Electoral Commissioner of the number of persons that the Juries Commissioner estimates will be required for jury service in a jury district. The Electoral Commissioner then randomly selects a number of persons apparently qualified and liable for jury service in that district and sends the roll to the Juries Commissioner. A person selected for the jury roll is not eligible to be selected again during at least the next 12 months (s 19).

Questionnaire

The Juries Commissioner then sends a questionnaire to either all the people, or the necessary number of people, on the jury roll (s 20). A person receiving a questionnaire has 14 days to fill it out and send it back unless the Juries Commissioner gives a longer time. If a person fails to send the questionnaire back then they remain liable for jury service. It is also an offence to fail to answer a question or give false or misleading information, with a maximum penalty of 30 pu or three months imprisonment (s 68). The purpose of this questionnaire is for the Juries Commissioner to work out who is qualified and liable for jury service.

Summons to juror

From the lists of people liable for jury service, panels of people are chosen at random for each jury district and these people are sent a summons to appear for jury service. The summons must be served at least 10 days before the day on which the juror is to attend court (s 27).

If for some reason a person cannot attend jury service as demanded by the summons, they should immediately contact the Juries Commissioner. It may be that a person can be excused or have their jury service deferred if they have a good reason (see above).

It is an offence not to attend for jury service after receipt of a summons; the maximum penalty is 30 pu or three months imprisonment (s 71).

If a person is empanelled (i.e. chosen for an actual jury) then it is an offence to fail to attend without reasonable excuse (s 71). The maximum penalty is 60 pu or six months imprisonment.

Payment for jury service

Jurors are paid for each day’s attendance, whether or not they serve on a jury (s 51). The payment is at a prescribed rate under the Juries (Fees, Remuneration and Allowances) Regulations 2001 (Vic), which is currently $40 a day for the first six days; and $80 a day for each day thereafter. If a trial lasts more than a year, the jury fees rise to $160 per day. People summoned for jury service should bring their summons for jury service with them as this is the juror’s authority for payment.

If a person is an employee then they are entitled to be reimbursed by their employer the difference between the amount paid by the court and the amount that they could reasonably expect to have received from their employer if they had not been performing jury service (s 52 Juries Act). An employee must notify their employer as soon as possible of the date on which they are required to attend jury service and give written details to their employer of the date they attended for jury service, the duration of the jury service and the amount of income to be reimbursed by the employer (s 53).

Employers should also note that it is an offence, carrying hefty penalties, to terminate or threaten to terminate the employment of an employee, or otherwise prejudice the position of an employee, because that employee attends jury service (ss 76, 83).

Selection on a jury

People summoned for jury service go into a jury “pool”. When a jury is required for a trial, the Jury Pool Supervisor will select a panel for the trial and the whole panel of jurors then attends the court. The judge’s associate calls out the name and occupation of each panel member. Sometimes, the panel members will be referred to by a number and occupation, rather than by name (s 36). The defence can challenge jurors, and the prosecution can ask jurors to be stood aside. Those people not challenged or stood aside are on the jury for that trial (s 36(2)).

Role of the jury

The jury’s role is to decide the case based on the evidence called at the trial. Evidence may be submitted as oral evidence from witnesses and/or physical evidence that takes the form of exhibits in the trial. The judge will tell (or “direct”) the jury everything it needs to know about the law to be applied in the case. The task of the jury is to:

decide the facts of a case;

apply the law as the judge directs; and

bring in a verdict.

It is important that the facts of a case are discussed only with other members of the jury, and not with friends, family or others. If assistance or clarification is required, a request should be made to the judge through the foreperson. It is an offence to conduct any research (e.g. on the internet), go to any scene of an offence, conduct any experiment, or request any other person to make enquiries (s 78A).

Do not discuss any facts or legal issues with the judge’s staff, who can assist only with administrative matters, such as your comfort or refreshments in the jury room. Also, you must not discuss your jury service by disclosing the identity of another juror, or any jury discussions about the case. This also applies after a trial is finished. You should report anyone who seeks to talk to you after a trial to the Juries Commissioner.

After a trial, if you are upset or distressed with the experience of having been a juror, you may contact the Juries Commissioner (see contact details above) to arrange confidential counselling.

Contacts and resources