Enshrined in UK law since the 13th century, a trial by jury is seen as a democratic right. Whilst an increasing number of cases are now dealt with by magistrates, with only the most serious offences tried before a jury at the Crown Court, the concept of undertaking jury service is still viewed as something of a civic and moral duty to wider society.
The probability of being called for jury service in the UK is somewhat slim. The Ministry of Justice does not publish figures on the likelihood of being summoned, but an analysis by the BBC judged that the probability of being asked to serve is around 40 percent over a lifetime. Figures from 2015 also show that there were 361,300 juror summonses were issued in England and Wales, but only 179,200 people actually sat on an active jury.
What is Jury Service?
When a person has been charged with a serious offense, their case will be heard at a criminal court. Whilst the trial and all eligible evidence will be overseen by a Judge, a group of 12 people will be chosen to act as jurors. They will ultimately be responsible for deciding on whether the defendant is found to be innocent or guilty. The jury service process allows for individuals to be called to serve on an active UK court case. It is a public duty, and fines have been levied against those who do not turn up for jury service.
Who is eligible for Jury Service?
Any UK resident aged between 18 and 70 years of age, who is registered on the electoral roll, could be called for jury service. All jurors are selected at random by computer from the electoral register. Since the introduction of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, the criteria for those eligible for jury service has widened – previously, certain professions, such as the police and judges, were exempt from inclusion.
Those who are not eligible for jury service include:
- Anyone currently detained, or who is liable to being detained, under the Mental Health Act 1983
- Those who lack the mental capacity to be a juror
- Individuals who are currently on bail, or an active defendant in criminal proceedings
- Anyone who has been in prison, or charged with a crime in the last ten years
Due to the random selection criteria, some people may be called to serve as juror multiple times during their life, whilst others will not be called at all.
How long does it usually last for?
An average juror will serve on a criminal case for between three to 10 days. However, more serious crimes, such as murder or complex fraud cases, may take much longer, and trial estimates are often exceeded.
If a judge has been briefed that a case is likely to last much longer than stated, he or she will raise this with all potential jurors from the outset, and allow them the opportunity to apply to be excused from serving, or for their service to be deferred to a later date.
Can it be deferred?
Anyone can apply for their jury service to be deferred. You can commonly only delay jury service once, and you must provide alternative dates for your availability within the next 12 months. The main grounds for deferral include:
- Having a pre-booked holiday
- Needing to attended hospital for a scheduled operation
- You need to attend an exam, or are a teacher and it is the exam period
- You are seriously unwell
- You are pregnant and due to give birth
Rarely, an individual can be completely excused from jury service (with the option of being called again at some point in the future). This normally only applied to those who have served as a juror, or attended to serve, within the last two years. It is a criminal offence to refuse your jury service and non-attendance can be followed with a fine of up to £1,000.
When should I be notified of a Jury summons?
An individual normally receives a summons for jury service at least five weeks prior to the date of the trial commencement, which they must legally respond to within seven working days.
As an employer, you should make clear that any employee needing to attend jury service must notify of their obligations, the date that the trial starts, and the estimated duration as soon as possible.
Do I legally need to give my employee time off?
Completing jury service is a legal requirement, and you must not discriminate against any of your employees for having to do so. You must also allow them to be away from your business for the full amount of time stipulated by the court. Employees also retain the right not to be selected for redundancy, if the reason for selection is in any way connected to their jury service.
However, if you really feel that you cannot spare an employee due to heightened business demand or lack of qualified personnel, you could ask them to apply to defer their jury service. If you choose to ask this, you will also be required to write a letter stating how their absence could seriously harm your business activities. You should note that they can only delay jury service once in any 12-month period, and that you must also supply dates of preferable dates when the employee will be available.
What happens to salary payment?
Legally, you are not required to pay an employee whilst they serve on a jury. However, many companies do so as a gesture of goodwill. As stated previously, the likelihood of being called to jury service during your working life could be as little as 40 percent, so many company policies reflect this, and offer full pay on the assumption that very employees are likely to be absent for this reason.
If you decide that you really cannot pay employees whilst on jury service, they can instead apply to claim for ‘loss of earnings’ from the court in question. A certificate demonstrating this must be filled out and handed in to the court by the employee.