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This article is focused on New Zealand law and explains issues from a Common law perspective.
Serving on a jury within New Zealand
How jury lists are made up
In every city or town in New Zealand where there is a High Court, there is a jury district. Every year a jury list is compiled for each district from people eligible for jury service.
Before a jury trial, names are randomly selected from the jury list and notices sent to these people requiring them to appear in court at a certain date and time.
Who are eligible to be jurors?
In general, anyone who is on the electoral roll can be called for jury service. This means that the minimum age for being a juror is 18.
Certain people are disqualified from being jurors, such as MPs, practising lawyers, and Police officers (see How to be exempted from jury service).
How do I get excused from jury duty?
At this stage if you think you have a legitimate reason for not serving as a juror (such as your health or family commitments) you may apply to the court to be excused (see How to be exempted from jury service).
How are jurors selected for a particular trial?
Just because you receive a notice to serve as a juror does not automatically mean that you will be on a jury. From the people summoned to the court, the prosecution and defence (or, in a civil trial, the plaintiff and defendant) have the right to challenge jurors for various reasons - for example, if the prospective juror knows the defendant, a victim or a witness. The lawyers on each side will try to eliminate people whom they think will not, from their point of view, be suitable or favourable for the particular trial.
If you are challenged, you may still be selected to sit on a jury in a different trial. However, it may be that you will not be required to sit on a jury at all and will therefore be free to leave.
How many jurors must there be for a trial?
Every criminal jury trial must have 12 jurors. There may be fewer than 12 for civil (non-criminal) trials.
What are my obligations if I'm selected to be a juror?
Once you are selected to sit on the jury you must not discuss any aspect of the trial with any other person, including other members of the jury when the jury is not deliberating.
It is usual for the judge to ask that as members of the jury you should not read any media reports concerning the trial.
The jury's deliberations
At the end of the trial the lawyers for each side and the judge deliver closing statements. The judge may include directions for the jury on points of law and on matters that the jury should or shouldn't consider in deciding on their verdict.
The jury is then required to deliberate in order to reach a verdict.
During the jury's deliberations all the exhibits and evidence are available to them. However, no written transcripts of evidence are available.
The jury must consider the case on all the evidence, and decide whether or not there is sufficient evidence to find the defendant guilty beyond reasonable doubt. Jurors are required to be impartial and to act with a clear head, showing no sympathy for any person involved.
Can the jury ask the judge questions while they're deliberating?
The judge is available at any time to answer any questions on points of law or on the facts of the case. These questions should be given to the judge by the foreperson.
The judge will then call the jury back into court, together with the parties to the case, to clarify the question of law or to rehear or replay evidence.
Does the jury's decision have to be unanimous?
In criminal trials, the jury's verdict must be unanimous.
If the jury in a civil trial have not been able to reach a unanimous verdict after deliberating for at least four hours, and there is no probability of it reaching one, a verdict of three quarters of the jury will be accepted.
Will I get paid for being a juror?
While on jury service you will receive a nominal fee. This differs according to whether it is a criminal or civil trial and according to the length of time for which the jury sits (in both hours per day and number of days). You should contact the court to find out how much you will receive. Jurors are also entitled to compensation for reasonable travelling expenses.
- If you are summonsed to attend court as a juror, you must do so. If you fail to attend, you can be fined.
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