Some people are automatically excluded from a summons. You’re not required if you’re over 70 or under 18. Neither can you serve if you have been in prison in the past 10 years. But other than that, you’ll need a “good reason” why you are unavailable for the next 12 months, otherwise you will simply be deferred and called again at a later date. Around 27% of people successfully exclude their summons for jury service.
Typical reasons for excusal include you can’t speak or understand English, you have responsibilities as a carer, your attendance would cause “unusual hardship” for your business. Most other excuses are treated as reasons to defer, not to avoid, jury service. Much more commonly, you can delay jury service but only once, and you have to say when you will be available over the next 12 months.
The main grounds for deferral are that you have a holiday booked, you are having an operation, you are a teacher and it is exam time, or you are a taking a temporary job (eg a university student during summer) that you’d lose if forced to attend court.
The court will not pay you to do jury service, but you can claim expenses such as food, drink and travel. You can also claim for loss of earnings if your employer doesn’t pay you during your jury service.
The most common complaints about jury service come from young mothers and the self-employed. Mumsnet forums are alive with complaints from mothers with pre-school children. “The accompanying bumf says they pay £32.47 per day for any childcare costs incurred … round here that would just about pay for three hours’ worth of babysitting,” says one, while another says, “I just completed eight days of jury service (in Scotland) and, despite having three pre-schoolers, I was not excused.”
The £32.47 is the fee paid by the courts as expenses to jurors who serve four hours or under, for 10 days or fewer. The figure rises to £64.95 for more than four hours a day, then goes up the longer the case lasts. The courts will also pay £5.71 a day for food and drink.
Many self-employed argue that £64.95 is hardly enough to cover their losses and, what’s more, the person has to provide evidence of loss of earnings before the sum is paid out. Research shows one in 20 employers refused to pay their staff if they undertook jury service, while a third stopped after five days. There is no legal obligation for firms to pay employees while on jury service.
Boredom is perhaps a bigger issue for many who are called up. Much of the time a juror spends in crown court is in a room waiting to be called. Typically, jurors are required to be available for 10 days, but sometimes longer. During this time you could sit on a number of juries covering several trials, but you could also spend the entire time just waiting.
If you are called for a trial, 15 of you will be led into the court room, with 12 eventually selected. Some trials will be fascinating, but many can be rather dull and mundane. However, a juror who failed to turn up at court, saying “I can’t be bothered, it’s really boring”, was arrested for contempt of court, while another juror was fined £100 for filing her nails and reading a magazine while hearing a case. The judge called her behaviour “disgraceful”.