Become a fan of h2g2
Updated December 2012
It starts innocuously enough. A smallish buff-brown envelope discretely bearing the initials hmcts drops through your letter box. In any given week, typically 7,999 other people will receive a similar envelope. Inside is an invitation to take part in what it describes as 'one of the most important civic duties that anyone can be asked to perform.' The initials hmcts stand for Her Majesty's Courts and Tribunals Service, and the principal content of your innocuous buff-brown envelope is your Jury Summons. This Entry describes what happens after your envelope arrives and applies to the process in England and Wales. The processes in Scotland and Northern Ireland, though similar, do differ.
What is a Jury?
A jury is a body of 12 men and women who decide the outcome of criminal trials held in Crown Courts1, where the more serious crimes are heard. A jury must decide, on the basis of the evidence presented in court, whether a person or persons is/are guilty of the offences with which they are charged. There are 75 Crown Courts in towns and cities throughout England and Wales, alphabetically from Aylesbury to York. You will most likely be asked to attend at your nearest Crown Court. Jury service normally lasts for a period of two weeks, but don't depend on this; for example, don't make daytime arrangements for the week after your jury service is supposed to end. Most trials last between three and seven days, but some trials are expected to last longer. Some may overrun for a variety of reasons, or you may be selected as a juror for a new trial starting later in the second week of your service.
Who is Qualified to be on a Jury?
Since April 2004, if your name appears on an electoral register, you are aged between 18 and 69 inclusive and meet the residency requirement2, you are probably eligible to serve on a jury. Exceptions relate mainly to people currently or formerly subject to criminal proceedings, and to those being treated for mental disorders, including guardianship under Section 7 of the Mental Health Act, 1983.
The Jury Summons
Your Jury Summons should arrive approximately two months before the date on which you are required to attend at your nominated court. As well as the formal papers and forms, the envelope contains a booklet describing the jury service process, together with some information about claimable expenses and compensation for loss of earnings. The first thing you must do is consult your diary to see if the jury service conflicts with any previous appointments. If it does, you may ask for your jury service to be deferred to a later date. Such deferments must be for non-trivial reasons, such as a hospital appointment for a surgical operation, or where your absence would seriously damage an important business transaction. Jury service can be deferred for up to 12 months, but you can only defer once. You may ask to be excused jury service at any time in the following 12 months, but such excusals are rare and only considered for exceptional circumstances.
Assuming that you are not applying for deferment or exception, you must return one part of the Jury Summons form within seven days of receiving it; failure to do so may result in a fine of up to £1,000. Initially you will deal with the Jury Central Summoning Bureau in London, a service that comes under the jurisdiction of the Lord Chancellor; later you will deal directly with your local Crown Court. In due course you will receive another letter confirming the details of when and where you must attend.
Your First Day
So, depending on your frame of mind, the either dreaded or eagerly-awaited day arrives. It is rather like your first day at a new school. You are this week's new intake. Everything and everyone will be strange at first, but don't worry, by the end of the day you'll start to feel quite at home. It is obviously sensible to allow plenty of time to get to your court; you will probably be instructed to attend at 09.00. You must take with you the front page of your Jury Summons and an acceptable form of identification such as a current passport or a valid driving licence with photo id — you can't send a deputy! On arrival you will be directed to a Juror Assembly Area where your identity is confirmed. When everybody has been checked, you are all greeted by the Jury Officer and the process of which you are now a part is explained carefully. You will also be shown a standard video recording that explains the trial-by-jury process.
Remuneration of Expenses and Loss of Earnings
Naturally your jury service will incur some costs and the court recognises this. Let us deal first with travel and subsistence costs as these are reasonably straightforward. The courts prefer that you travel to and from court by public transport wherever possible, however you can claim car mileage if you need or prefer to use your car. Car mileage expenses are paid at a fixed rate per mile, and many courts have standard mileages between the court and its outlying towns and villages. They will not usually pay car parking charges other than in exceptional circumstances. Be sure to get receipts supporting any travel expense claims other than for standard car mileages.
There is a fixed subsistence payment for each day you attend court. Some courts with catering facilities operate a 'smart-card' system which is credited each day with a standard amount for you to spend in the canteen for say lunch. At the end of your jury service, any unused credit is paid to you as part of your expenses. You may also bring food with you, or may go out for lunch provided that the judge has released you for the lunch recess and that you are not on a jury in retirement.
Loss of earnings can be a more difficult issue. United Kingdom law protects jurors from being penalised by employers discriminating against them as a result of their performing jury service. However there is a maximum allowance that the court will pay in compensation for loss of earnings or any additional expenses incurred as a result of jury service, for example child-minding costs.
For many employees, their loss of pay is recovered from the loss of earnings allowance paid by the court, however for some people, for example those self-employed who do not earn if they don't work, this can be less than their normal earnings. You should advise your employer (or if self-employed, your accountant) as soon as you receive your jury summons. Further detail on this sensitive topic is beyond the scope of this Entry.
What should you wear? There is no specific dress-code, although 'smart-casual' is probably the best advice. Remember you are going to be seated for most of the day, so bearing that in mind, wear something comfortable.
One of the things they tell you is that the jury process involves a lot of waiting about. This is only partially correct — it involves a lot of waiting about — so it's wise to take books, newspapers, personal music players or whatever with you to wile away the time. Until released for the lunch break or for the remainder of the day, you have to remain in the Jury Assembly Area at all times when you are not actually in the courtroom. Even when selected for a jury and the trial is in progress, there will be times when you are asked to leave the courtroom so that the judge and the lawyers can discuss points of law or other matters, discussions which may not take place in the presence of the jury.
You are allowed to take personal belongings into the courtroom with you, excluding cameras or recording equipment; mobile phones are permitted, but must be switched off. Receiving a text message in the jury box will not endear you to the judge, and he has considerable powers to fine you for Contempt of Court.
Choosing a jury is a succession of random selections. It is by random selection from the electoral register that you receive your Jury Summons. Some are called soon after they become eligible, others wait most of their lives without being called, and some people are never called. You may be called once or more than once, however if you are called for a second time within two years of your first summons, you have the right to be excused the second period of jury service. The random selection process is intended to 'ensure that those called for jury service reflect the community from which they are drawn.' It is during this period, before you are sworn-in as a jury member, that most of the waiting-about occurs.
Until you are selected for a jury, you may not be required to attend court every day. At the end of each day, the Jury Officer, who is responsible for ensuring that sufficient jurors are available to fulfil the jury requirements for the next day's business, will decide if you need to attend. If you are not already assigned to a jury panel, and there are no new cases scheduled to start next day, your presence will probably not be needed.
When a jury is required for a new trial ready to start, from the potential jurors not currently allocated to another jury, a panel of 20 is selected at random. Of those, 15 are selected by shuffling cards with the jurors' names on; this group is known as the 'jury-in-waiting' and is assigned to that specific trial. However this does not yet mean that you are a member of a jury.
The Trial Begins
Assuming that the trial for which you are now a juror-in-waiting goes ahead — some pending trials are stopped at the last moment because the defendant changes their plea to guilty — the process of selecting the jury for the trial continues. The Court Clerk has the cards with the names of the members of the Jury-in-Waiting on. He or she shuffles them and starts to read out the names of 12 people in the order determined by the shuffled cards. As your name is called, you take the next empty place in the jury box. Assuming that you remain on the jury, this will be your seat throughout the trial. The prosecution or defence lawyers may make an objection about any juror, in which case that person is dismissed from the jury-in-waiting and will in due course return to the assembly area to await selection for another jury-in-waiting. This continues until 12 jury members have been selected; they are then sworn-in by a Court Usher.
Each jury member is required to stand up and swear an oath while holding a holy book of their choice, or may make an affirmation; this uses a form of words similar to those of an oath but without holding a holy book.
When the jury has been sworn-in, the Court Clerk stands facing the defendant(s) and reads out the indictments, that is the list of charges brought against them. The defendants will have already entered pleas of Not Guilty to the charges. In a minority of cases, the prosecuting lawyer may state the approximate geographical location where the alleged offences took place, and read the names of those who will give evidence at the trial. If any of these people are known to a jury member, or there is any other reason for a conflict of interest, that jury member must immediately declare it and will be dismissed from that jury by the judge. After this process, and any jury members replaced who need to be replaced, the remaining members of the jury-in-waiting are released by the judge; they return to the pool of people available to be assigned to another jury panel.
The trial is now under way, so...
The Judge sits alone on a platform raised to a greater or lesser extent above the body of the court. His role is to oversee the proper conduct of the trial, to rule on points of law raised during the trial, to sum up the evidence to the jury after it has all been presented and finally to sentence the defendants if they are found guilty. The majority of Crown Court trials are dealt with by Circuit Judges who wear black robes with a violet central section and a red sash. Some cases are heard by Recorders, experienced lawyers who sit part time as judges. They wear normal black lawyers' gowns and wigs, not judges' gowns and wigs.
Facing the judge, in the Dock, sit the Defendant(s) whose trial this is. They are accompanied in the dock by Security Officers. Also facing the judge, but in front of the defendants, sit the Prosecution and Defence Lawyers, with their advising Solicitors sat behind them. If there is more than one defendant, each may have their own defence lawyer.
Sat in front of the judge, but with their backs to him or her, are the Court Clerk and the person responsible for ensuring that the court recording system is operating correctly and to change the recording tapes at the appropriate times, if necessary3. The court clerk may not be present all the time during the trial.
To one side of the court is the Jury Box in which you and your fellow Jurors are sat, arranged in two rows of six.
On the other side of the courtroom, and towards the front, is the Witness Box in which evidence is given in person by Witnesses. In sensitive cases, some witnesses may give their evidence via a live video link from either another location in the court building, or occasionally from a different building.
A Court Usher is seated at some convenient place in the courtroom. The functions of the usher are to escort the jury in and out of court, to pass evidence material to the judge (and sometimes to the jury) as it is presented by the lawyers, to provide assistance with things like fetching drinking water for witnesses if necessary and generally to attend to the domestic needs of the court. The most important role for the usher comes after the judge has finished summing up and the jury retires to consider its verdict. The usher then must ensure that nobody can communicate with the jury and vice versa, until the trial is over and the jury has been dismissed by the judge.
Finally, on the side of the courtroom, opposite the jury (and strictly speaking not in the 'Court' at all) are seats for members of the public and for press reporters.
The Evidence is Presented and Challenged
The major part of any criminal trial is the presentation of the evidence and the testimony and cross-examination of witnesses. First the prosecution presents its case. This is put by a lawyer who represents the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS)4. It is the CPS that decides whether a charges made by Police against defendants should be brought to trial. In coming to this decision, they have two principal criteria: Is the trial in the public interest, and does the case have a reasonable chance of resulting in a conviction in court? After the prosecution lawyer has outlined the facts in the case, the prosecution witnesses give their evidence. After each witness has given their evidence, the defence lawyers have the opportunity to cross-examine that witness, after which the prosecution has the opportunity to re-examine the witness in the light of any matters introduced by the defence.
When the prosecution has completed its case, it is the turn of the defence lawyers to present their case (or cases if there are multiple defendants). They may introduce new witnesses and, just as the defence may cross-examine prosecution witnesses, so the prosecution has the opportunity to cross-examine defence witnesses.
So what should you, as a juror do throughout this? Well you might be well advised to listen carefully and take notes on what is presented in court, because at the end of the trial you must reach a verdict as to whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty of the charges. You are provided with paper and a pencil for this purpose. Your notes remain in the courtroom at all times during the trial until the jury retires to consider its verdict, at which time you take your notes with you to the retiring room. Court hours are typically from 10.00 to 16.30, Monday to Friday, with a lunch break from 13.00 to 14.00, but the judge will decide when the court sits and when it rises. It is unlikely for example that evidence from a new witness will start at 15.50, as the judge may decide to rise for the day and continue the next day. Starting times may vary as well, since the judge may be occupied with other matters, either to do with your case or with other cases. The judge may also decide to rise to take a 10- or 15-minute break during the morning or afternoon sessions. If he does this, your jury is escorted by the usher back to the jury assembly area to wait there; you are not allowed to leave this area during breaks.
At various points during a trial, legal matters will arise that the judge must discuss with the prosecution and defence lawyers out of ear-shot of the jury. The judge instructs the jury to leave the courtroom while this happens. Sometimes only a five-minute break is required, in which case the jury can remain in an ante-chamber next to the courtroom. If the legal matters take longer, the judge may ask the jury to return to the jury assembly area and wait to be summoned back into court. Again you are not allowed to leave the assembly area during these times.
What must you as a juror not do? Well the principal sin, and indeed an offence in itself, is to discuss the case either with your fellow jurors, with the jury of another case, or indeed with your friends and family. Neither must you do your own research about the case on the Internet, nor read newspaper or watch television reports on the case (if it's a high-profile trial). Something else which will not endear you to anyone is falling asleep in the jury box — it does happen, particularly where the case itself is intrinsically dull, or when one of the lawyers starts droning on.
The Final Stages of the Case in Court
When both the prosecution and the defence have presented their respective cases to you, the jury, each then has the opportunity to make a closing speech. These speeches are directed specifically to you as jurors. Each will summarise their case and draw your attention to the key points they will want you to consider. After the closing speeches, the judge, who may well have seemed to you to have been fairly silent during the trial, gives his summing up speech, reviewing the evidence presented and directing you on how the law applies to the charges brought and to the evidence presented.
The usher swears an oath to keep the jury free from contact with any other people while it deliberates. The judge then sends the jury from the courtroom to a retiring room to consider its verdict. You take your notes with you; this is the first and only time they leave the courtroom.
The Jury in Retirement
Now is the moment at which you, the jury, take over the trial proceedings. The 12 of you must try to reach a conclusion as to the guilt or innocence of the defendant(s). You may be required to deliver multiple verdicts if there is more than one count (charge) on the indictment. Once in the retiring room, the first task is to choose one of you to be the jury foreman — the person who will speak in court when asked to deliver the jury's verdict. Your deliberations remain secret at all times, not only while you are deliberating, but after the trial as well — in fact for ever.
The judge will have given guidance as to what you must consider, but you can ask for further guidance at any time. To do this, the foreman writes a note, called a judge's note, which is given by the usher, unread, to the judge — there is a button in the retiring room enabling you to call the usher into the room. You should be aware that the judge can only reply in open court and that the contents of your note will be read out in court.
On receipt of your note, the judge will probably consult with the lawyers and then call the jury back into the courtroom to read the content of your note and to clarify the topic(s) which you have asked about. Since the note is read in open court in the presence of all parties concerned, including the defendant, you should word your judge's note appropriately. For example you should probably not write: Eight of us think he done it, but four don't. What next? The proper note should read: We are unable to reach a unanimous verdict. How should we proceed?
The preference is for all 12 members of the jury to be of the same opinion that a defendant is guilty or not guilty. However, if after a period of time, the jury remains undecided, the judge can call the jury back into court and tell them that he will accept a majority verdict, that is one on which at least ten jury members can agree.
Once you have reached a unanimous verdict on each of the counts on the indictment, or a majority verdict if the judge has said that he will accept such a verdict, the jury foreman sends a judge's note via the usher that you are ready to deliver your verdict. The court then reconvenes and when the court is ready, the jury returns to the jury box. The court clerk will ask the jury foreman to stand up and asks him or her if the jury has reached a verdict. The correct reply is simply 'Yes' — the phrasing of the question from the clerk makes this clear.
The clerk instructs the defendant to stand up and asks the jury foreman: Do you find the defendant [defendant's full name] guilty or not guilty? The jury foreman replies with the joint decision of the jury, either 'Guilty' or 'Not guilty' as appropriate. The clerk confirms the verdict and asks: Is that the verdict of you all? The jury foreman replies 'Yes'. If the indictment carries more than one count, the process, with a slightly different wording, is repeated for each count. The judge then thanks you for your efforts and dismisses the jury, who take no further part in the courtroom proceedings.
In very serious cases such as murder, for which the penalty is mandatory, if the defendant has been found guilty, the judge may pass sentence there and then. In many other cases, the defendant has to return to court for sentencing at a later date. The defendant may be remanded in custody pending sentencing, or may be bailed to appear again. If as a jury member you wish to know the outcome of sentencing, you can telephone the court later to ask for the judgement.
Following the trial, all paperwork in the retiring room is destroyed in a secure manner, so that your jury deliberations remain secret. Depending on how much of your jury service remains, that may be it all over, or you may be returned to the pool of jurors to await selection for another trial. Either way, you will have contributed your bit to the Criminal Justice System.