A jury trial is the basic foundation of the overall criminal justice system. Individuals charged with any serious criminal offences are entitled to have their innocence or guilt determined by the judgment of their peers. The men or women who decide their fate and if they are innocent or guilty are known as a “Jury”.
The importance of trial by jury was clearly expressed by Deane J in passionate words in his judgment in Kingswell in the year, 1985:
“The guarantee of section 80 of the constitution was not just a mere expression of some casual preference for one type of criminal trial. Instead, it reflected a deep seated conviction of free men and women about the way in which justice should be served in criminal cases. This conviction finds a solid basis in the complete understanding of the history and functioning of the common law. All of the rules relating to jury service in New South Wales (NSW) are regulated by the Jury Act 1977 (NSW).
Every individual who is enrolled to vote in NSW is qualified and liable to serve as a “Juror”. However, there are a few exclusions which are briefly mentioned below. Many of these may be based on the profession, sickness, disability or undue hardships of a person as a result of serving jury duty.
Juries are made up of a total of 12 people selected at random from the electoral roll. In NSW, there is a specific requirement for a unanimous jury of 12. Given the need for a majority verdict of 11 jurors which are expected to last more than 3 months, in general. The judge has the right to choose to add more people to the jury i.e., a maximum of 3 additional jurors. This is done in order to make sure that there are enough jurors for the verdict to be made.
Once the person has been called to court for jury service, they are selected randomly to sit on a jury. All criminal lawyers have an opportunity to veto potential jurors by using a “peremptory challenge”. This challenge is done to ensure a fair trial for everyone. Hence, potential jurors may at times be vetoed for reasons such as the way they look, nationality, their gender or their profession amongst other reasons. Generally, the reasoning is completely based on the criminal lawyer’s experience or the gut feel about the juror. Any potential bias a person may hold can cause the trial to become unfair to their clients, in one way or another.
Juries determine most of the criminal cases in the District or Supreme Court. They are typically used for “indictable offences” or serious criminal matters. However, at times, they are also used in some civil cases. They are not normally used for less serious criminal offences.
The key role of a juror is to hear people’s claim and evidence that is presented to them in court. Afterwards, they apply the law as directed by the judge. Jurors make the decision based on the evidence and law if the person is guilty or innocent in a crime they have been charged. The decision made by the jury is called a Verdict.
They play a vital role in the Australian judicial system by maintaining a perception of fairness and justice. A jury is designed to represent the broader population rather than a particular person and any other bias or prejudice they may have. Without the help of a jury, the decision about a person ‘s guilt would be solely that of the judge. In Australia, the role of a jury is to decide whether a person is guilty or not. By any means, they do not have the right to decide on the penalty that should be applied on the guilty person.