What happens on a jury?
If you’re empanelled to serve on a jury, you must attend court until the jury reaches a verdict and the judge discharges the jury.
Some cases may take many days or weeks to complete; however, an average trial in the Supreme Court and District Court lasts 3–5 days. You may serve on a jury in either. You may be empanelled on more than one trial during your jury service period.
- Before the trial starts, the judge explains your role as a juror and how you should conduct yourself during the trial.
- The Crown prosecutor states the defendant’s name and Crown witnesses who may be called during the trial.
- You tell the judge if you recognise someone or an associate of any person mentioned.
- The judge may direct the jury to elect a jury speaker, but generally you should elect your speaker at the first opportunity—usually during the first break.
The jury speaker
The jury speaker:
- manages the jury, ensuring each juror’s opinions are shared and discussed when deciding on a verdict
- keeps deliberations focused on the evidence and the law
- tells the judge if the jury wants a break
- tells the judge when a verdict has been reached
- speaks for the jury in court.
In the jury room
As a juror, you sit in the jury box and listen to the arguments presented by the prosecution and defence lawyers, and the evidence offered to support their case.
After the evidence has been presented and the judge has summed up the case, the judge asks the jury to retire to consider its verdict. You then proceed to a separate jury room to consider the evidence and come to a fair decision—the verdict.
While you deliberate, you can’t talk to anyone except other jury members and the bailiff. Jury deliberations are confidential and it’s an offence to discuss them with anyone.
Every jury member must agree on the verdict unless a majority verdict is allowed.
Going home or staying overnight
Empanelled jurors usually go home each night during the trial. However, once the judge has sent the jury to consider its verdict, the jury may be kept together until they’ve reached a decision.
If you need to stay overnight, the court will pay for hotel accommodation for the jurors, including transport and meals. If this is likely, the bailiff will tell you to bring a change of clothes.
If the judge does decide to send the jury home for the night, don’t speak to anyone about the trial or read any material about the trial (i.e. newspaper articles or social media).
Regular breaks are scheduled throughout the day. You may take breaks during the trial but you can’t leave the court without permission. Catch the bailiff’s attention, who will tell the judge you wish to speak to them. Tell the judge you need a break and why.
Most jury rooms have male and female toilet facilities.
Talking or inquiring about a trial
If you’re asked to discuss or reveal any information by any form of communication (in person, by phone, by message, through social media or in writing) about your jury service or a trial in any way that concerns you, contact the deputy sheriff immediately.
Additionally, you can’t inquire about the case or defendant yourself, or visit the scene of the crime. This is an offence with a penalty of up to two years imprisonment.
Being removed from a jury
The judge can discharge you as a juror if they decide you’re not impartial, acting properly or fulfilling your service as a juror.
If you’re sick and can’t attend court, the judge may discharge you for the rest of the trial. If this happens, a substitute juror (reserve juror) may replace you.
After the trial
Most jurors leave court feeling a sense of achievement. However, it is also common to feel detached or confused after facing the intensity of the courtroom and being confined to a jury room with a group of strangers.
These feelings usually pass in a few days. But if you’re having problems and they persist, don’t just tough it out. Seek help.
If you need to talk to a counsellor or psychologist after the trial, a jury support program is available. You receive information about this service at the end of the trial.
You can also call Benestar counselling services on 1300 360 364 (local call costs apply).
(If you wish to seek counselling and you haven’t completed your service, ask the sheriff or registrar to excuse you from further attendance.)