In 1995, fresh off his success in the hits Encino Man and Son in Law (where he played the delightful character ‘Crawl’), Mr Pauly Shore, comedian / actor / legend, starred in the movie Jury Duty. It was about an unemployed, lazy stripper (!!) who finds out that if he is selected for jury duty on a murder trial, he can earn $5 a day and get a free room at a local hotel, and all he has to do is watch a trial.
Needless to say, hilarity ensues, and he finishes up with the girl of his dreams, the innocent are freed from the clutches of prison, and the guilty are punished by the blind warrior that is the criminal justice system in America. I watched this movie way too many times.
I think it is fair to say that this fine movie is a highly fictionalised work that does not truly capture what it is like to be called upon to participate in a jury trial.
It does not show the stress involved in getting a summons letter requiring that you attend a jury selection process, nor the feeling of dread that comes with having to tell your boss and co-workers that you will need to take some unexpected time off work and will need everyone else in the team to carry your matters while you are gone. Given that most law firms seem to judge people badly for taking a lunch break, the idea of one to two weeks off to go to jury duty is, understandably, a point of friction for most workplaces.
The movie also places way too much emphasis on how supposedly awesome it is to be part of a jury. It doesn’t show the disruption to normal routines, the mad shuffling and juggling of family responsibilities, or the incredible boredom that comes if you are ultimately selected to be on a jury.
So, today, I want to give you an overview on the ways in which you can try and get out of your civic duty to form a panel of your peers on a jury. I understand how horrible it can be, and want to make sure you know what to do if and when your time comes.
Of course, I am not saying you should not do your civic duty of forming a jury of your peers. I am just saying there are good reasons not to, if you qualify.
Quick note, this applies to New South Wales only. Other States and Territories are on their own on this one.
You must have a ‘Good Cause’ to be excused
It is getting harder and harder to get out of jury duty, if you are called. Back in the day, it was sufficient to simply say that your work commitments would not allow you to participate without adversely affecting your career. Now, since changes to the law around jury trials and supposed ‘protections’ against recrimination from your employer if you do need to miss work to attend a jury trial, work commitments are not sufficient to give you a ‘good cause’ to be excused from a jury trial.
Instead, you must be able to fall within one of the following exemptions:
- jury service would cause undue hardship or serious inconvenience to you, your family or the public. Politicians love to use this one, leading to hilarious jokes about how it would be more convenient to the public if they did have to be on a jury rather than in Parliament. Oh, political humour is the best humour. So elitist and patronising;
- you have a disability that makes you unsuitable or incapable of effectively serving as a juror, without reasonable accommodation. This really relates to reasons of mental illness rather than physical illness in most cases, as particularly in personal injury matters the person claiming damages for injury will want a jury that is made up of people with physical injuries that might be more sympathetic to the injury claim;
- there is a conflict of interest or some other knowledge, acquaintance or friendship that you have which may result in your being perceived as lacking impartiality as a juror. So fortunately, my brother can’t be on the jury that sends me to the gallows (and I KNOW he would if he could, just for fun); or
- you must have a permanent mental or physical impairment that makes you incapable of doing jury service or that would injure your health if you do jury service.
Other grounds for being excused, if you are desperate
The sheriff of the court (who is the person making the ultimate decision as to whether you can be excused or not) may also consider excusing you in other circumstances, including if:
- you are a sole trader or contractor – YAY, I could use this one if I had to;
- you have care of school aged children and are unable to make alternate care arrangements. Kids are useful for something, apparently;
- you are in an advanced stage of pregnancy and/or are having medical difficulties during your pregnancy. A medical certificate is required though, as apparently a pregnant belly is not sufficient evidence;
- you have a medical condition which would make jury service onerous. I can’t even think of what medical condition would cover this, other than death or near death.
- you are an emergency service operational employee. These guys are heros, and they should not need to do anything they do not want to do;
- you are enrolled in education and need to attend lectures or exams, or are living outside your jury district to undertake studies. This would be the one time students might actually choose to go to lectures;
- you have a mental or physical impairment. Note: being too lazy to participate does not, as far as I can tell, qualify you for this exemption;
- you are absent from New South Wales (why would you want to leave our fine State?!);
- you have transport difficulties, such as unsuitable or unavailable public transport (this should apply to everyone in Sydney); or
- you are unable to read and understand English (which would make it difficult for you to read this blog post as well, so this one is pretty much for reference purposes only).
You might be able to be excused from jury duty – now what?
To claim an exemption from jury duty, you need to put together evidence to support your claim (see above), and lodge it all through the New South Wales Jurors’ website at juror.nsw.gov.au or send it in physically to the address that’s on the back of your jury duty summons. Electronic is easier.
The most important things to remember are:
- you have to lodge your claim at least one week before the date you’re meant to rock up to court for the jury selection process; and
- you need to get confirmation from the Office of the Sheriff that you have been excused. Much like breaking wind in a crowded lift, please don’t assume you’re excused just because you don’t hear anything.