Jury service is seen as an important civic duty in the UK and is a key feature of our legal system. With few exceptions, anyone between the ages of 18 and 70 who is living in the UK and on the electoral register can be selected at random for jury service.
Many of those summoned are happy to be a jury member for the duration of a trial, but for others it can be an inconvenience as well as a financial challenge. So what exactly are an individual’s obligations if selected for jury service, and how can employers manage it?
Who is eligible for jury service?
As stated above, if you’re aged 18 to 70 and appear on the electoral register, you can be summoned for jury service. Before April 2004 when the Criminal Justice Act was amended, some professions such as doctors and police officers were automatically exempt, but that no longer applies. Now, even judges and lawyers can be jurors. The only individuals who are disqualified include people with certain criminal convictions or those suffering from a serious mental health disorder.
How does it work?
Typically, you’ll receive a letter calling you up for jury service some five weeks before the trial is scheduled to start. Your letter will tell you when you need to attend and will include a form, which you need to complete and return within seven days. You’ll also receive a leaflet telling you about rates of allowance and any expenses you can claim, and how to ask for a deferment or be excused from jury service. Getting out of jury service isn’t easy, although in certain circumstances, you may be able to ask to postpone your service until a more convenient time. This includes:
- If you have already booked and paid for a holiday.
- If you are ill or due to have an operation or some other type of medical procedure.
- If you are caring for someone.
- You are a new mother who is breastfeeding.
- You are due to sit an exam.
- Your boss won’t give you time off work and you have a letter stating that your absence would have a serious impact on the business.
There is no guarantee that you’ll be excused from jury service unless you’ve already served as a juror within the last two years, and each case is considered on its merits. If you simply choose to ignore the letter or fail to turn up for jury service, you could be fined up to £1,000.
How can jury service affect my business?
The average jury service lasts up to 10 days, but some trials can go on for a lot longer. As an employer, having a member of staff away on jury service, especially for weeks on end, can definitely put a strain on your business. Depending on your type of business and existing staff levels, you may have to take on someone to cover for your employee at an additional cost.
Do you have to give employees time off?
Yes, is the simple answer. You are bound by law to allow staff time off to carry out jury service. If you think their absence is likely to have a serious impact on your business, you can ask them to defer their service if possible, putting your reasons in writing. In many instances, the employee may be happy to seek a deferment; if not, you’ll have to comply with their request for time off. It’s important to note that an individual can only ask for a deferment once in a 12-month period and will have to say when they will be available in future on the jury summons. If you fail to allow an employee to perform jury service, sack them, or discriminate against them in some other way, you could be taken to an employment tribunal.
What about pay?
You don’t have to pay staff while they are serving as jurors, although you may choose to do so. Employees will be able to claim an allowance for jury service, but this may not be as much as their daily rate of pay. In this instance, you can opt to make a top-up payment so the employee doesn’t lose out financially. Again, this is your choice. More information and guidance on paying staff who are away on jury service can be found here.
What if you’re a contractor or self-employed?
If you are self-employed, you will still be expected to do jury service if summoned, although you can claim for loss of earnings. To make a claim, you can show your last year’s tax return or provide the court with a letter from your accountant.
For more information about jury service, contact the Jury Central Summoning Bureau (JCSB) on 0300 456 1024, or go the government’s FAQs page.