Many links in the jury service chain
The last thing most people would expect to receive in the mail is a summons to jury service.
But once your number comes up, that piece of paper signals the start of a democratic process that will inevitably lead the individual concerned to a courtroom somewhere in WA.
The ultimate aim is to form a jury of 12 to 18 people to decide whether an accused person in a criminal trial is guilty or not guilty.
More people than the amount required are called upon to carry out their civic responsibility and contribute to a fair and just legal system.
Attorney-General Michael Mischin said the system preserved community involvement and responsibility in the administration of criminal justice.
“Members of the public bring their common sense, experience of life and their understanding of the human experience, into the courtroom,” he said.
“It has been a long-standing feature of our criminal justice system that, whenever practicable, jurors — as representatives of our community — be the judges of the facts in serious criminal cases, and decide whether the prosecution, representing the State, has proved its case against an accused to the requisite standard of proof.”
Mr Mischin said it was important the pool of jurors be as broad as possible in order to be “truly representative” of the community as possible.
Co-ordinated by the Sheriff of WA, there are several links to the jury service chain that require cooperation from employers, employees, the State Government and the community.
One common myth is that individuals are singled out for attention deliberately but the selection formula is simply a computer randomly picking names from the electoral roll.
Candidates are notified by mail several weeks before the trial starts to arrange personal matters.
Employers are required by law to release staff for jury duty and pay them normal wages/salaries or face penalties from $10,000 to $50,000.
Once widely regarded as an inconvenience and relatively easy to avoid, new legislation was introduced in 2014 to tighten up the system.
The categories of people previously automatically exempt from jury duty were slashed and the age limit for jurors was raised from 65 years to 75 years.
Under the changes, prospective jurors could defer for a set period and $800 fines were introduced for failing to show-up for jury duty after summons.
Lawyers and some categories of parliamentary officers maintain their current exemption from jury service.
But anyone believing they cannot form part of a jury duty can speak to the presiding judge outlining their concerns.
The judge would then make a decision on whether that person was eligible or not.
Mr Mischin said the new Barnett Government laws were in response to the declining range of people being available to be selected to serve on juries.
“There was a perception that most jurors were the unemployed, stay-at-homes and retired,” he said.
“The laws have resulted in a significant increase in the number of people fulfilling their obligation to serve on juries, resulting in a more balanced composition of juries and in a restoration of their status as a respected and key feature of the administration of justice.”
Once in court on the allocated day, potential jurors are shown a video to explain their role.
Charges against an accused person are read out loud in the courtroom and if he/she pleads not guilty, 12 or more people are chosen through a balloting process.
To protect privacy, people are referred to by their allocated number instead of being named.
During the selection process, the prosecution of defence lawyer can challenge an individual’s selection for the jury without explanation.
Should this happen, that person must leave the jury box and return to their seat in the courtroom.
WA Chief Justice Wayne Martin summed up the importance of jury duty for people from all walks of life.
“Community participation in the criminal justice system through the jury process has long been a vital feature of our system of justice,” he said.
“We appreciate that jury service disrupts daily life and may be inconvenient, however, its importance to the justice system cannot be overstated.”
The Karratha Court House, where juries serve on District Court cases.