In her recent article here my colleague, Martina Larkin, wrote of the duty to comply with a jury summons. Today I want to examine the procedure involved in the selecting of and serving on a jury.
A person called for jury service attends Court as part of a panel of potential jurors. There is usually a “roll call” of jurors to ensure all have attended and whose names are then put into a jury selection box. For a particular trial, the jury panel will be advised by the prosecution of the type of case involved, the identity of the accused and of the witnesses who will be called to give evidence. If any juror knows, or has any connection with, any of the parties involved the Judge will excuse him from service.
Names are drawn at random from the jury box. If the juror has any valid reason as to why he should not serve on the jury he must tell the Judge at that point who may excuse him. The prosecution and/or the defence may object to any potential juror – each side has seven objections (or “challenges” as they are called) without giving any reason and any juror can be challenged for a stated reason. The juror takes the oath to “well and truly try the case and give a true verdict in accordance with the evidence” and is then formally on the jury. Once 12 jurors have been empanelled the Judge will request them to elect a foreman to liaise between the jury and the Judge. Two Gardai will be assigned to take care of the jury. Jurors must not discuss the case with anybody outside the jury until the case is over.
The evidence module of the trial then begins with the prosecution setting out its case and calling its witnesses who are cross-examined by the Defence. Matters of law are matters for the Judge to decide whereas matters of fact and the credibility of witnesses are entirely for the jury. If a point of law arises in the course of the case the Judge will ask the jury to retire to their jury room while the point is being legally argued in Court and when the legal issue is resolved the jury returns to continue hearing the evidence.
At the end of the evidence the jury will be directly addressed by the prosecution, the defence and, finally, by the Judge, who gives what is known as his “charge” to the jury.
The Judge will advise the jury of various principles it must take into account when arriving at a verdict – the presumption of innocence of the person accused, the fact that the entire burden of proof is on the prosecution and that the accused does not have to prove anything, the right of the accused not to give evidence and that no adverse inference should be taken by the jury from the fact that an accused may choose (or be advised) not to give evidence, whether or not there has been corroboration of the prosecution witnesses evidence. The Judge will summarise the facts of the case as put forward by the prosecution and defence and reminds the jury that the prosecution must prove the accused’s guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt” and will explain what that means. The jury then retires to the jury room to deliberate, discuss the evidence and arrive at a verdict. If, after two hours, the jury has been unable to reach an unanimous verdict the Judge will advise that a majority 10:2 verdict is acceptable. When the jury has reached a verdict that verdict will be given by the foreman and written on what is known as the “issue paper”. Once the verdict has been given the Judge will thank the jury, discharge them and exempt them from further jury service for a given period of time.
Service on a criminal jury is of the utmost seriousness as the freedom of the accused person may rest in the jurors’ hands whose own lives return to normal after the trial but whose verdict may have a life-changing effect on the accused person if found guilty.