Jury trial and verdict    

 

During a criminal trial the Director of Public Prosecutions acts on behalf of the community to prosecute a person accused of a crime. 

As a juror in a criminal trial, your role, after hearing and seeing all the relevant evidence, is to determine if the accused is guilty or not guilty.

For general information about what to expect see:

If you are a juror in a civil trial, your role is to find for the plaintiff or respondent.

Image of a group of people sitting and looking into the distance.  

Responsibilities of jurors

An accused person has the right to a fair trial, so jurors should pay full attention to the trial proceedings. This means you should not take unrelated material, such as books, magazines or iPads into the courtroom.

  • Jurors should at all times be open-minded, fair and impartial.

  • If you realise in court that you know a witness, you must immediately inform the judge in a note sent via the court officer. The names of witnesses will have been read out at the start of the case, so whenever possible this should have been raised before the jury was empanelled.

  • All jury discussions must occur in the jury room and only when all jurors are present.

  • Do not discuss the case with any other people. You should not speak to other people in the precincts of the court. If you attend work on a day when court is not sitting, be careful not to discuss any details of the trial with your colleagues or work mates.

  • Do not post any discussions or materials from jury service on social media.

  • You will be provided with a notebook to take notes as needed. You will have to hand this in each day, and at the end of the trial. Once the matter has been finalised, all the notebooks are destroyed.

  • You may be required to go on a 'jury view', where you are taken to the scene of the alleged crime, with the judge and legal representatives. These visits are pre-arranged and treated like a normal trial day.

  • You are not permitted to visit the alleged crime scene without the judge and legal representatives.

  • During the trial, you must not use any material or research tool, including the internet, to find out further information which relates to any matter arising in the trial.   


Role of the judge

The judge, who is addressed as "Your Honour", decides on points of law and rules on the admissibility of evidence presented in the trial.

If a jury decides that an accused person is guilty, the judge will decide on the penalty. Judges control the court proceedings and their directions must be followed.

The judge is assisted by an associate, who reads out the indictment at the start of the trial, keeps a record of the exhibits, hands up documents to the judge and takes the verdict.


Role of the court officer

The court officer will be the person you will have most contact with and who will direct you in and out of the courtroom. If you have any practical day-to-day concerns you should ask the court officer, who will relay your concerns or questions to the judge in writing.

The court officer will pass documents back and forward between the lawyers and the judge and will also present the jury with certain items of evidence that need to be viewed.

However, jurors must not discuss the case with the court officer.


Reaching a verdict

At the end of the trial, jurors go to the jury deliberation room to consider their verdict. The deliberations of the jury are kept secret.

In order to reach a fair verdict, each member of the jury must understand and follow the judge's instructions on the law.

As a juror, it is important that you consider all the evidence carefully. Do not be afraid to speak up and express your views.

Take your time, review your notes and remember it is all right to change your mind when there is good reason for doing so.

Your decision will have a significant effect on the lives of other people, so give the case your complete attention and make thoughtful deliberations. 


How a jury deliberates

There is no set procedure which jurors are bound to follow in reaching their decision. A jury panel is given as much time as its members need to decide on the verdict.

Provided they follow the judge's instructions, jurors are free to deliberate in any way they wish.

However, it may useful for jurors to decide at the start on general guidelines for the discussions. For example, they may ask the jury representative or foreperson, to chair discussions.

The foreperson should ensure that discussions are carried out in a free, unhurried and orderly way, focusing on the issues to be decided. Each juror should be given a chance to participate.

The representative should respect the opinions and different viewpoints that the jurors bring to the case. This will help the jury to reach a fair verdict.


Assistance from the judge

If jury members require assistance recalling particular evidence or have a question about the law that needs clarification, the judge can assist. Please do not hesitate to ask.

A jury must also get assistance from the judge if any juror does not understand something in the judge's instructions. If there is any confusion about the law or some of the evidence the jury should ask for:

  • further clarification or explanation

  • the definition of a word or legal principle

  • a transcript of all or part of the testimony of a witness

This is done by sending a written request to the judge through the court officer.

Remember you must make sure you do not discuss anything about the case with the court officer.


Delivering a verdict

Once the jury has decided on a verdict, the foreperson will send a note with the court officer or sheriff's officer advising the judge that a verdict has been reached. The foreperson will not disclose what the verdict is.

The jurors will return to the courtroom where they will be asked if they agree on a verdict. The foreperson then announces the verdict.

Immediately after this, the judge will discharge the jury and jurors will be permitted to leave the court complex. In some trials the court may accept a majority verdict and the trial judge will provide guidance if this is required.

If the accused or defendant is found guilty, the judge decides what sentence to impose. This does not usually occur immediately after the verdict is given. The sentence may be given days or weeks later, but the jury is no longer required.  


Times of court sittings

Court usually sits from 9:30am to 4.00pm, with lunch and morning tea breaks.