What is a jury and what do they do?
Juries are a very important part of our justice system.
Juries are groups made up of members of the public, who sit in on court cases and listen to the information put forward by the prosecution and the defence. The jury then discusses the information as a group, in private, to decide on a verdict (whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty). This involves identifying what facts have been proven and applying the law to these facts.
There are usually 12 people on a jury. They are chosen through a random selection of people from electoral rolls, followed by a further selection process at the court to determine who the final 12 people will be.
You can read more about jury service on the Ministry of Justice website.
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Do I have to do my jury duty if I am selected or can I be excused?
If you are chosen, you have to serve unless you can be excused or disqualified because:
- of work commitments, childcare responsibilities or physical disability
- you are over 65 years of age and do not wish to serve
- of your religious beliefs
- you have served on a jury within the last two years
- you are closely connected with someone in a trial
People who can’t serve on juries include:
- police officers
- people who work within the court system
- some people who have been in prison
- people with an intellectual disability
You can apply to be excused from jury service because of the reasons listed above, or if your employer won’t let you. You apply by filling out the response form that is included with your jury summons (or you can download a copy of the form online and email it to the court). You will need to include proof of your reasons for requesting to be excused from jury duty, or to have it deferred to a later date.
Even if you are excused for one jury service, you can be called back again in the future.
More information for people who have been selected for jury service but can't attend, is on the Ministry of Justice website.
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If I have been sent a notice to serve on a jury, does that mean I’ll be put on the next jury available?
No, just because you have received a jury summons it doesn't necessarily mean you will actually end up sitting on a jury, because there is a further selection process at the courtrooms to determine who will end up being on the jury. Also, even if you get through the jury selection process at the courtrooms, the court case may not be heard until later that week.
In your jury summons you will be notified about when you will be required to go into court for the jury selection process. At the courtrooms there will first be a pre-trial ballot. This is where a court registrar randomly draws names of prospective jurors from a ballot box.
If your name isn't called you might be:
- asked to wait for a second ballot later that day,
- asked to return the next day or later that week, or
- told you won't be needed at all.
If you do get selected through a pre-trial ballot, then there is another ballot which takes place - the jury ballot. When your name is called, you have to step forward and take a seat on the jury. As you're doing this, the defence and prosecution lawyers have the right to "challenge" you before you sit down.
If you are challenged it means that you have been rejected for that case and you are free to go (and that is the end of your responsibilities in regards to that particular jury summons). Lawyers do not have to say why they are rejecting you. Don't take a challenge personally though - challenging is just a way in which lawyers can influence the mix of people sitting on the jury.
See the Ministry of Justice website for more information about the jury selection process.