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Jury service

19 Jul 2016 - 10:44 | Version 5 |

Contributed by DanielMcGregor and current to 1 May 2016

The Australian justice system works on the principle that people charged with certain crimes should be tried and judged by their peers. For this reason a person charged with a serious criminal offence in the Northern Territory is tried in the Supreme Court before a judge and jury.

The Victorian and New South Wales Supreme Courts still use the jury system to settle some civil disputes, but in the Northern Territory and other parts of Australia this practice has become increasingly rare.

Juries decide the facts based on evidence presented during a trial. The judge rules on matters of law, determining which evidence is admissible. Jurors play an important role in criminal trials because, as representatives of the general public, they are considered to guarantee an independent and commonsense approach to evaluating evidence presented during court proceedings.

The law dealing with juries is contained in the Juries Act 1963 (NT) (JA) and its regulations (JAR) and provisions of the Northern Territory Criminal Code Act 1983 (NT) (CCA).

Types of jury service

There are two kinds of jury service:
  • Criminal: where the jury consists of 12 people [JA s.37(1)] who decide the guilt or innocence of people tried in the Supreme Court. The court in which a criminal trial is to be held may direct that reserve jurors [JA s.37A(1)] be selected
  • Civil: where the jury consists of four people. However, in civil cases courts are able sit without a jury [JA s. 7(1)], and in the overwhelming majority of cases do just that. A jury will only sit in a civil trial if an application to have the case tried before a jury has been made by one of the parties involved [JA s.7(2)] and accepted by the court. Such applications are rarely made and usually rejected.

Eligibility

Every person registered on the Northern Territory electoral roll is liable for jury service if they reside in the jury district [JA s.19(a) (b); JR regs.4, 5] unless they fulfil the criteria for ineligibility or exemption [JA s.11]. People ineligible for jury service includes anyone:
  • in prison
  • on parole
  • who has had a sentence wholly or partly remitted (suspended) and is on a good behaviour bond
  • who has completed a period of imprisonment within the last seven years
  • has been sentenced to a term of imprisonment for a capital offence anywhere in Australia or in a prescribed country
  • who is of unsound mind, in a hospital, undergoing treatment according to the Mental Health and Related Services Act 1979 (NT) or a protected person within the meaning of the Aged and Infirm Persons' Property Act 1979 (NT).
Also exempt from service are judges and their spouses; the NT Administrator and Official Secretary; members of the Legislative Assembly; lawyers; the Ombudsman; ministers of religion; practising medical practitioners and dentists; members of the police force; Department of Justice employees; people (including officers) employed according to the Prisons (Correctional Services) Act 1980 (NT); employees of the Director of Public Prosecutions; people who are blind, deaf or mute or otherwise incapacitated by disease or infirmity; and people over the age of 65 years who at the revision of a jury list claim exemption [JA s.11(7)].

A person may be excused from jury service if they:
  • have a good reason to be excused or their qualifications to serve as a juror are in doubt
  • have served before within three years prior
  • don't have a good command of the English language and can't read or write.
An eligible person who doesn't fit any of these categories can, at the judge's discretion, be given temporary or permanent exemption from jury service in special circumstances. For instance, a person who has previously served in a lengthy jury trial might make a successful application.

Selecting jurors

In the Northern Territory, the Supreme Court hears cases in both Darwin and Alice Springs. The electoral district surrounding each court house is known as the jury district. People enrolled to vote within a jury district can be summonsed as jurors to hear cases held at that district's court house. The Sheriff of the Northern Territory is responsible for organising juries and at least once each year compiles, by random computer selection, a jury roll from the roll of electors.

The Sheriff determines who is liable for jury service by sending to every organisation that meets the exemption criteria a letter requesting an updated list of people in their employ who are exempt [JA s.11].

At each sitting of the court, alternative panels for each jury district are chosen by random computer selection from the draft jury roll. At least seven days prior to the date of the court hearing, a summons to appear for jury service is sent to those people selected.

A judge may excuse a person from jury duty after proceedings have commenced, even though the Sheriff may have previously refused to excuse that person [JA ss.14, 15].

A person who knows they cannot serve as a juror should notify the Sheriff's office and provide a statutory declaration (see Legal documents this chapter), and a medical certificate if the application is based on medical grounds, so they can be excused or have their attendance deferred (see Contact points ). If a person summonsed has died, a short note should be sent to the Sheriff's office by a relative or friend.

The telephone number for jury service inquiries is enclosed with each jury summons.

What to do at court

A person called for jury service should wear neat, casual clothing. A juror arriving at Darwin Supreme Court should go to the Jury Muster Room off the foyer. Jurors are required to attend by 9.15am. In Alice Springs jurors should assemble at the Law Courts Building, corner of Parsons and Hartley Streets, by 9.00am.

Jurors in a criminal trial are balloted (given a number) and then called one by one into the jury box where each must swear an oath or affirmation to give a true verdict according to the evidence. Before a juror is sworn in, the accused (defendant) or their counsel and the Crown (prosecution) have a right to challenge whether that person should be allowed to be a member of the jury. They may challenge without having to state their reasons. The process does not imply any criticism of the person challenged. The number of jurors the defence and prosecution may challenge in this way is limited. Additional challenges can be made by either side but only for cause shown, that is, if they can state a valid reason for a challenge.

The selection process for jurors in civil trials is the same as for criminal trials, except that both the respondent and their legal representative must show cause when challenging a juror.

Jurors are provided with food and refreshments during the course of a trial; if a person is able to successfully prove hardship an extra $20 and $30 per day can be paid. After nine days of jury service, the payment is $120 per day, with provision for an additional $30 per day in hardship circumstances. Each juror is entitled to be paid for their jury service at the current rates of $20 for attendance, irrespective of whether they are chosen as a juror, and $60 per day during the course of a trial. Payment for service is made by cheque not less than two weeks after the completion of the sittings. In the public sector, Chief Executive Officers can determine the portion of jury service fees that can be retained by one of their employees [Public Sector, Statutory Authorities and Commissions By-Laws cl.20(3)]. Jurors in private employment should negotiate their financial arrangements regarding jury fees with their employer.

Offences

Anyone who fails to comply with a jury summons or who leaves jury service without permission can be fined $500 or more [JA s.50].

A person summoned for jury service, regardless of whether they actually serve, can't be dismissed by their employer or be subject to prejudicial treatment due to their absence from work for this purpose. An errant employer is liable for a maximum penalty of $5000 or 12 months imprisonment.

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