Juries are selected to hear evidence in criminal trials, some civil actions and some Coroner’s inquests.
Anyone on the electoral register aged between 18 and 70 years old can serve on a jury and if randomly selected by computer to serve will receive a letter called a Jury Notice.
If an employee is selected to sit on a Jury they should check if they are qualified to serve. There is a list of exceptions provided with a jury notice relating to occupations when an employee would be automatically ineligible:
a person who has at any time been employed in the administration of justice, such as Courts Service, Prison Service and PSNI staff;
a person serving full time in the armed forces, for example, members of the Royal Irish Regiment;
a person who is unable to understand English.
Some employees who are eligible may wish to be excused from jury service and these include:
Northern Ireland Assembly staff;
certain Public officials;
Certain professions in education or medicine;
People aged between 65 and 70.
Once an employee has established that they are eligible to serve on a jury they will need to inform their employer as soon as they receive a jury summons. Jurors should be given 21 days notice of the date on which they are expected to attend. There is no legal requirement that employers must allow employees time off for jury service. However, an employer who refuses to allow an employee time off work for jury service could potentially be fined for contempt of court.
The Employment Relations (Northern Ireland) Order 2004 outlines employers’ responsibilities when their employees are summonsed for jury service. If an employer dismisses an employee for taking time off work to do jury service, or refuses to allow the employee to return to work after they have been off on jury service, this will normally be an automatically unfair dismissal, regardless of their age and how long the employee has worked for the employer. However, the dismissal will not be automatically unfair if:
the employee going on jury service will cause 'substantial injury' to the employer's business; and
the employer has pointed this out to the employee; and
the employee, once they know going on jury service will cause this problem, refuses unreasonably to ask the court for their jury service to be postponed or to be let off jury service altogether.
An employee has no right to be paid while off work on jury service unless their contract allows for this. If the employee’s contract does not allow for this they can claim for loss of earnings up to daily maximum limits from the Court Service. Information on claiming for loss of earnings including the maximum amount payable is included in the jury summons.
More information on serving on a jury and the right to time off work is available from your local CAB, from the website of the Northern Ireland Court Service at www.courtsni.gov.uk or on the Department for Employment and Learning website at www.delni.gov.uk. Information on jury service can also be found on www.nidirect.gov.uk if you are an employee or worker and www.nibusinessinfo.co.uk if you are an employer.
Siobhan Harding is an Information and Policy Officer with Citizens Advice