Getting called up to do jury service can have a serious effect on your finances. We look at your rights.
The trial of Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson on phone-hacking and corruption charges is now underway and could last six months.
The case is being heard at the Old Bailey in front of a jury, with jurors expected to commit for the full six-month trial. Judge Mr Justice Saunders has reminded jurors that jury service "is a public duty and is not voluntary".
That’s all very well, but how many people could afford to put their life on hold for six months? Even sitting on a jury for the standard two weeks could push some people into hardship.
So what are your rights if the dreaded brown envelope containing a jury summons lands on your doormat.
Getting called up
Around 178,000 people are called to do jury service in England and Wales each year and, for most, there’s no getting out of it.
You have to be at least 18-years-old to sit on a jury, while the upper age was raised from 69 to 75 earlier this year. There used to be a long list of important jobs that would get you excused, but this has been significantly shortened.
In some circumstances – for example, if you have a holiday booked, an operation scheduled or exams coming up - you might be able to defer jury service. But it doesn’t mean you’ll get out of it altogether. If you have certain mental health conditions, are on bail or have ever served a prison sentence, you can get excused.
In most cases if you’re called to do jury service you’ll be due at court every working day for two weeks during which you might sit on one case, several or none at all.
Some cases will go on for much longer. In this situation jurors will be quizzed about their circumstances and whether they could commit to such a long trial. A total of 80 possible jurors were first selected for the phone hacking trial and this number was soon whittled down to 33.
Those members were asked to fill in a questionnaire overnight and confirm whether they could commit to such a long trial.
For the reluctant, simply not turning up to court is not a good plan as no-shows can be fined up to £1,000.
Jurors can claim a number of types of expenses while they sit on a trial: travel, food, loss of earnings and other expenses (e.g. childcare).
If you travel by public transport the court will refund the cost of your ticket. Cyclists receive 9.6p per mile for their journey to the court and back, and motorcyclists and drivers 31.4p get per mile. You’ll need to get permission from the court if you pay for parking – when I did jury service almost 20 years ago the court would only cover a time-consuming park-and-ride service.
Food expenses depend on how long you’re out of home: £5.71 per day for up to 10 hours, £12.17 per day for more than 10 hours.
Many people will still be paid by their employer while they sit on a jury, but those who aren’t, and the self-employed, could find they end up out of pocket.
This is because the maximum amount you can claim for loss of earnings and other expenses is a paltry £64.95 a day for the first 10 days. The amount goes up to £129.91 a day for days 11 to 200 and £228.06 a day from day 201 onwards. If you’re needed in court for less than four hours a day you’ll get less.
Yes, just £64.95 a day for most people. As a freelancer this is a fraction of what I earn on average and I suspect most other self-employed workers would say the same thing. Meanwhile people with childcare duties would be hard pushed to find a child-minder at this price. In this situation you could ask the court to defer your service or let you off altogether, but I wouldn’t fancy your chances.
If you’re worried about how you’ll cope financially if you’re called for jury service, there is insurance you can buy to cover costs.
QDOS sells policies that cover freelancers and contractors for legal expenses and jury service up to £500 a day.
Some home insurance policies with legal expenses may cover loss of salary due to jury service if you won’t be paid with your employer while you’re in court. However, limits are likely to be low so check the policy small print if you’re planning to rely on this.
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