When is a jury required in a court case?

The role of a jury in the determination of legal proceedings goes back to the 13th century, when the jury was comprised of a collection of local men of good standing, called upon to determine the guilt or otherwise of the accused.

To this day, juries continue to fulfil a crucial role in the administration of justice. The jury’s role is to constitute the tribunal of fact. That is, to determine the questions of fact that were posed by the prosecution and defence. The role of the trial judge in overseeing the jury trial, was to ensure that the rules of evidence was strictly adhered to so far as the admissibility of evidence was concerned and to properly direct the jury in accordance with the prevailing law to enable the jury to make its decision.

Juries can be used in both criminal and civil cases. They are however much less common in civil cases than they were previously.

Juries in criminal cases are used for serious offences, called indictable offences. The jury will comprise 12 people. Juries are not used for less serious proceedings involving summary offences. Such proceedings are heard before a Magistrate or Judge.

Traditionally, a unanimous verdict of a jury was required to convict the accused. This was changed to allow for a majority verdict of 11 jurors in criminal trials in certain circumstances.

The determination of a jury can be appealed but only in limited circumstances. It can only be appealed if there was a serious error of law or misdirection by the trial judge. It is the role of the jury to determine questions of fact and it is very difficult to appeal from any such determinations.

In New South Wales, juries empanelled to determine civil matters comprise four persons. Juries in civil matters are almost exclusively utilised in defamation proceedings. They are called upon to determine whether the offending publication complained of, was defamatory.

Juries comprise members of the community who have been randomly selected from the State Electoral Roll. Jury service is compulsory but there are provisions for disqualification of certain persons from serving on a jury. This would include persons who:

  • Have served a prison sentence within the last 10 years.
  • Have served a sentence as a juvenile offender within the last three years.
  • Are currently bound by a court order such as parole, driver disqualification, community service order, apprehended violence order or the like.

In New South Wales, criminal trials can proceed in the absence of a jury. In those cases, the proceedings will be determined by a judge alone.

It is open to the accused to make an application for a trial by judge alone. The application for a judge alone trial can also be made by the prosecutor, but such a trial cannot proceed if opposed by the accused.

Brydens Lawyers have experts available to assist with all criminal matters. For any enquiry concerning a criminal law matter, contact Brydens Lawyers without delay on 1800 848 848 or at brydens.com.au. At Brydens Lawyers – #WE DO criminal matters.