The jury is the “lamp that shows that freedom burns“, the cornerstone of the criminal justice system. But who are they, how are they chosen?
Who can sit on a jury?
Jurors are chosen at random from the electoral roll for the local area (so you have to be a citizen of the EU or Commonwealth). Everyone who is over 18 and under 70 is eligible for jury selection (all the details are set out in the Juries Act 1974 as amended) if you having been living in the UK for the last 5 years.
Certain people are disqualified:
- People who have a ‘mental disorder‘ as defined in Sch 1
- People on bail for a criminal offence
- People who have received a sentence of life imprisonment, IPP, extended sentence or a determinate sentence in excess of 5 years
- People who have finished (within the last 10 years) a prison sentence or Community Order
Also, the Judge can determine that an individual who is ‘not capable of acting as a juror’ can be discharged (for example – they can’t speak English).
People can ask, on a case by case basis, that they are excused from jury service, or they are deferred from serving at that particular time. Examples would be a pre-arranged holiday or being a member of the army deployed overseas. Guidance has been issued as to how these applications will be dealt with by the Court.
It used to be the case that lawyers could not sit as a juror, but this requirement has now been lifted.
How is a jury chosen?
The people summonsed will attend in the Court building. A jury consists of 12 people, but because of the requirement that they are chosen at random a group of more than 12 people will be brought into Court to form the ‘jury in waiting’. Their names will be written on a piece of card and the court clerk will shuffle their names before reading them out one by one.
As their names are called out the people will go into the jury box. When there are 12 people there, then the jury is ready to go.
The remaining potential jurors will wait in case there are any problems. If the jurors know the defendant, or anyone involved in the case, then obviously they cannot be a juror in that case.
One by one the juror will stand up and ‘be sworn’. This means that they swear on oath on their holy book, or affirm if they have no religion. A Christian would say “I swear by almighty God that I will faithfully try the defendant and give a true verdict according to the evidence“, with that being adapted for different religious beliefs.
Can someone object to a juror?
Before the jury is sworn the clerk will tell the defendant “the names that you are about to hear called are the names of the jurors who are to try you. If therefore you wish to object to them or to any of them, you must do so as they come to the book to be sworn, and before they are sworn, and your objection will be hear”. Despite this (and what you may see on films and in tv), there are limited opportunities to object.
It used to be the case that the defence had a right to object to a certain number of jurors without giving a reason, but this has been abolished. They have to give a reason (‘challenge for cause’).
The Prosecution have a right to ask any potential jurors to ‘stand by’, ie not sit on the jury. A prosecutor however should not use this unless there is a good reason. Good reasons would include concerns over the juror not speaking English or where there is a question over whether the juror knows someone. Wanting to influence the racial or sexual makeup of the jury would not be a good reason.
Once all the jurors have been sworn in, the jury has been ’empanelled’ and the trial is ready to start.