The courts are getting tougher on those who try to opt out of sitting on a jury. If you get summonsed to do your duty, don’t think you can easily shrug it off – and you may even find you enjoy the experience.
If you are chosen
Read the summons notice for details of when and where to report. Ignoring a summons could cost you a fine of $300.
You can apply to be excused. Reasons include poor health, disability, care of your children and work commitments. If any of these are relevant, you must get a letter from your employer, doctor or a community leader. Applications to be excused are often granted.
Most people have to turn up every day for about a week, during which time they could be selected for a jury trial. The cases may not last more than two or three days, but serious cases, such as murder, go for longer.
On selection day
More people are summonsed than are needed. Each day, names are drawn from a ballot box. If your request to be excused was rejected, you can try again by applying to the judge to be excused on the day. Tell one of the court staff you want to do this. The judge will hear your argument and decide whether to accept it.
Even if your name is called and you are willing to serve, you may not get the chance. Lawyers for each side can also challenge prospective jurors. They do this to try and get a jury they think will be sympathetic to their case.
Six challenges can be made without giving a reason. After that, they must convince the judge that they have grounds. If the challenge is successful, you cannot sit on that particular jury.
If you know the accused or one of the witnesses, you must let the judge or court staff know. You’ll likely be excused from the case.
When 12 people have been chosen, they are asked to elect a foreperson, who speaks on their behalf in court and helps conduct the jury’s considerations.
You are usually allowed to take notes. Once the evidence has been given, the judge sums up and explains relevant points of law. The jury then decide if the accused is guilty or not guilty.
They can ask for evidence to be read again and points of law to be explained. Eventually, you will decide. In criminal cases, the jury’s decision, or verdict, must usually be unanimous.
If you are not in agreement, you keep discussing the case until you do reach agreement.
If the jury can’t do that, the judge may discharge the jury and order a retrial. Because of the time and expense, judges are reluctant to do this and will often ask juries to reconsider a case and reach a final decision.
The court pays your expenses getting to and from court, and a small fee. Firms are encouraged, but not required by law, to pay the wages of their employees serving as jurors.
Doing your bit
Courts find it hard to get juries which are representative of our society. If you receive a summons, you should give it a go. You’re playing your part in making the justice system work.
Visit the citizens advice bureau at cab.org.nz for more information
Sue Chetwin CEO Consumer NZ , Keep informed at Consumer.org.nz