Prospective jurors are picked at random from the electoral roll. Anyone can be chosen, except those who have been in prison for some time or have an excluded occupation such as lawyer or police officer.
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If you are chosen for jury duty you will receive a summons to appear at the local court on a certain date. You cannot ignore a summons, or you may be fined up to $300. Read the summons notice carefully for the details of when and where to report.
You can apply to be excused by writing back promptly. Acceptable reasons can include fulltime care of children, work requirements, poor health and disability. If relevant, get a letter from your employer, doctor or a community leader. Applications to be excused are frequently granted.
Most people summonsed for jury duty have to turn up every day for a week, during which time they may be selected for a jury. The cases themselves don't usually last more than 2 or 3 days, but some go on for much longer.
More people are summonsed than are needed. Each day all the names go into a ballot box, and a draw is held to find people to fill the juries for that day.
If you wrote to the registrar asking to be excused but your request was turned down, you can apply to the judge to be excused on the day. Tell one of the court staff when you arrive that you want to do this. The judge will hear your argument and decide whether to accept it.
But even if your name is called and you are willing to serve, you may not get the chance. Lawyers for each side have the right to "challenge" prospective jurors. They do this to try to get a jury they think will be sympathetic to their case.
They can make up to 6 challenges without giving a reason; after that, they must convince the judge they have good grounds. If the challenge is successful you cannot sit on that jury.
If it turns out you know the accused or one of the witnesses, you must let the judge or one of the court staff know straight away. You will probably be excused from the case.
When 12 people have been chosen for a jury, they are asked to elect a foreperson who will speak on their behalf in court and who will help conduct the jury's deliberations.
During the trial you are usually allowed to take notes.
Once all the evidence has been given, the judge will sum up the case and explain relevant points of law. The jury will then go away and decide if the accused is guilty or not guilty.
During this time, the jury can ask that evidence be read to it again and points of law be clarified. Eventually, you will decide. In criminal cases, the jury's decision, or verdict, must be unanimous. If you are not in full agreement, you will have to keep discussing the case until you can get a unanimous verdict.
If the jury cannot reach a verdict, the judge may discharge the jury and order a retrial. Because of the time and expense involved, judges are most reluctant to do this and will often ask juries to go back and reconsider a case.
The court will pay your expenses in getting to and from court. Jurors are also paid a small fee, starting from $31 for up to 3 hours, depending on how long the juror attends each day.
Firms are encouraged but not required to pay the wages of their employees serving as jurors.
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