Jury Service in the ACT

The ACT uses juries to decide criminal trials in the Supreme Court. The Juries Act 1967 governs juries in the ACT. This article outlines the laws around juries and jury service in the Australian Capital Territory.

The role of juries in the ACT

In a serious indictable matter, a jury is used to decide whether the accused is guilty or not guilty. Juries make this assessment after hearing evidence and submissions put before the court by the prosecution and defence during the course of a trial, with regard to directions given by the judge.

Juries do not decide legal issues or what sentence the accused receives if they are found guilty.

How is a jury composed?

In the ACT, a jury is composed of 12 jurors (section 7, Juries Act).

If one or two jurors are unable to continue because of illness or some other sufficient cause, the trial may continue with fewer jurors if the judge makes an order for this to occur (section 8).

Who can be called for jury service in the ACT?

Anyone who is on the electoral roll in the ACT may be called up for jury service. A person is liable to serve on a jury unless they are disqualified or exempt.

Disqualified, Ineligible Or Exempt

The Juries Regulations 2018 sets out the classes of people who are disqualified, ineligible, exempt from jury service in the ACT.

Under the regulations, a person is disqualified from jury service for life if they have been:

  • Convicted of a terrorist offence;
  • Convicted of an offence that is punishable by life imprisonment;
  • Convicted of an offence that involves actual or threatened violence or endangerment of life and that is punishable by 15 years imprisonment or more;
  • Convicted of a sexual offence that is punishable by imprisonment for 10 years or more;
  • Convicted of unlawfully possessing or making explosives.

If a person has been convicted of an offence and sentenced to imprisonment, detention or a good behaviour order, they are disqualified from jury service for a fixed period. The length of the period depends on the sentence they received.

Under the Regulations, a person who is employed in certain occupations is exempt from jury service. These occupations include:

  • Magistrate or coroner;
  • Police officer;
  • Judge
  • Doctor;
  • Emergency service worker;

A person may claim an exemption from jury service if they are:

  • A minister of religion;
  • A person aged over 70;
  • A professor, lecturer, teacher or principal;
  • A nurse;
  • The editor of a newspaper;
  • A person with a disability within the meaning of the Disability Services Act 1991;
  • A person who is subject to a mental health order under the Mental Health Act 2015;
  • A person who cannot read or speak English;
  • A person who is a full-time carer for a disabled person with whom they live.

Excusing of jurors

A judge or a sheriff may excuse a person from attending for jury service in the ACT for a stated period if they have shown sufficient reason such as pregnancy or illness.

Empanelling a jury in the ACT

When a jury is empanelled, a court officer randomly chooses 12 members of a jury pool. These choices may be challenged by either the defence or the prosecution. Each party is entitled to eight peremptory challenges (challenges without giving a reason) and unlimited challenges for cause (for example, because they know the accused or are biased). A challenged juror will not form part of the jury. 

Offences under the Juries Act

The Juries Act contains criminal offences relating to juries. These include non-attendance for jury service and leaving court without permission while performing jury service. These offences both attract a fine of up to 10 penalty units. Personation of a juror is also an offence under the Juries Act and can lead to a penalty of up to six months imprisonment.

Other offences relating to jurors include unlawfully dismissing a worker who is absent because they are performing jury duty (section 44AA) or disclosing protected information such as jury deliberations and the identities of jurors (section 42C).

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