Jury Service: Facing the Challenges as a Freelancer
As a freelancer in the UK, receiving a summons for jury service can be a complete pain in the butt. There are so many things to consider. Loss of earnings, the costs involved like travel expenses, and of course managing work commitments. However, serving on a jury is not just an important civic duty that plays a crucial role in the fair administration of justice, it’s actually really interesting too.
In this blog post, I’m going to share how it all works and my experience serving as a juror last year – without sharing too many specific details. The aim is to minimise the impact on your freelance work.
The process of Jury Service. What happens
You know that jury service is a process in which individuals are selected to serve as jurors in a court of law. The purpose of jury service is to ensure that justice is served by “impartial citizens who hear the evidence and make a decision based on the facts presented in a case”. Pretty much all walks of life are asked to do jury service. You can be summoned to a case in a Magistrates’ court or Crown Court.
Here’s what you can expect to happen during jury service:
You’ll receive a summons from the court indicating the dates you are required to attend. You must respond to the summons within 7 days and attend on the specified dates unless you have a valid reason.
- Voir Dire:
The first step in the trial process is the Voir Dire, also known as Jury Selection. During this process, the judge and attorneys from both sides will question potential jurors to determine their suitability to serve on the jury.
- Hearing the case:
Once selected, you will hear the case and the evidence presented by both the prosecution and the defense. This can include witness testimony, expert witnesses, and physical evidence.
After all the evidence has been presented, the jury retires to a separate room to deliberate. During this time, the jury will discuss the evidence and try to reach a verdict. It’s important to keep an open mind and listen to all points of view to make a fair and impartial decision.
- Reaching a verdict:
The verdict must be reached by a unanimous decision of all jurors. The verdict must be based solely on the evidence presented in the case and must be free from outside influences.
- Final steps:
Once the verdict is reached, the jury will return to the courtroom and the verdict will be read aloud by the judge. If the verdict is guilty, the judge will then proceed to sentencing. If the verdict is not guilty, the defendant will be acquitted.
What if I can’t make those dates
If you’re unable to attend the dates you have been summoned for jury service, you should notify the court as soon as possible. There are a few reasons why you may be excused from jury service, including:
- Illness: If you are suffering from an illness or medical condition that would prevent you from serving as a juror, you may be excused. You’ll need to provide medical evidence to support your request.
- Hardship: If serving on a jury would cause undue hardship, such as financial loss or caring for a dependant, you may be excused. You will need to provide evidence to support your request.
- Professional obligation: If you have a professional obligation, such as a pre-booked work trip or a vital surgery, you may be excused. You will need to provide evidence to support your request.
- Rescheduling: In some cases, the court may be able to reschedule your jury service to a later date.
Being excused from jury service is not guaranteed and the court has the final say in determining if a request for excuse will be granted. If your request is granted, you may be required to serve at a later date or maybe permanently excused from jury service depending on the circumstances.
My experience serving as a juror
As it turns out I received my first summons to be a juror a month before my fiftieth birthday. The court case was due to start on the Monday and we had a celebratory trip to Sennen in Cornwall for the Friday (so I could surf on my birthday). I didn’t want to risk not being able to go away so I replied to the summons which comes with a form to fill out.
We had already booked the trip so it was a valid reason for not being available.
On the form I had to share three or four Mondays that I would be able to start jury service. A week after the form was sent off I received a new summons for the week after the original date.
Getting inside the court
As you would expect, getting into court is a slow, time-consuming task. The security is tip top and there are obvious things you can’t take into court.
- blades – such as scissors, penknives and razors.
- other sharp items – such as knitting needles and darts.
- glass – for example bottles.
- metal cutlery.
- syringes (unless you have a prescription)
- toy guns and other things that look like guns.
- tools – for example screwdrivers, hammers and nails.
What I was most surprised by when having my bags checked was that you had to take a drink of any water or unopened bottle before going through the metal detectors.
Once your bag is checked you walk through a metal detector and are then patted down by security. There was a man and woman on each time.
In and out
On the first day, I arrived about 30 minutes early. The court doesn’t let you in until a specific time (8.30 am in my case). Everyone lines up outside and waits as the slow process of bag check and metal detecting is carried out. On the first day I walked straight in so didn’t realised that it can be slow. On the second day – when it was tipping it down and the rain was coming at us sideways, I arrived 15 minutes early and waited outside for 30 minutes to get in. There was a problem with something so it was very slow. We were very wet. I arrived mega early every day after that.
While I’m talking about getting into court – on day three the defendant was queuing to get into court with us. He was with his carers but that was pretty uncomfortable. I thought he would have a separate entrance.
There’s a lot of waiting when you’re a juror. The court sends you tons of information on what to expect for weeks before you even enter the court and it states that it’s best to bring a book or a laptop so you can work if you need to.
They aren’t wrong. It’s a very slow process. Once in the building, I didn’t get called for selection till 12.30.
Once inside the court, I was directed to a waiting room – with a canteen that served pretty good coffee. One of the ushers handed me a number of forms and I sat and waited.
FORM ONE: Availability for Jury Service
There were a number of cases being tried that week and one was expected to last a few weeks. Jury service is on average 10 days long. (Monday to Friday for two weeks). If a case is expected to last longer the jurors need to be available for the whole of that time. One of the forms was about a case that was expected to last six weeks. We had to fill out the form stating why we would not be able to serve on that jury.
As a freelancer I put “If I don’t work I don’t get paid” which is an acceptable reason. Other people had holidays or surgery booked. The retired teacher who sat next to me in the waiting room (whose life story I knew after day one as there was so much waiting around) had no reason not to be on that jury – and was put on it. It was a shooting.
FORM TWO: How to claim for expenses, loss of earnings, and other financial details
There are lots of financial elements to do with serving on a jury. We’re able to claim for travel expenses (you need to keep your receipts or screenshot your Oyster report for those). You are allocated a food allowance (£5.71 if you’re in court up to four hours a day and £12.17 if over 10 hours a day at time of writing) – even if you bring in a packed lunch. I had pretty much used it all up with a coffee and pastry on the way in.
You are also able to claim loss of earnings if you are self employed. This amount is set no matter what you earn and depends on how many days you are actually at the court.
For the first 10 days of jury service, you can claim up to:
- £64.95 a day if you spend more than 4 hours at court
- £32.47 a day if you spend 4 hours or less at court
If your jury service lasts longer than 10 working days, the amount you can claim increases. You’ll be able to claim up to:
- £129.91 a day if you spend more than 4 hours at court
- £64.95 a day if you spend 4 hours or less at court
Childcare costs outside of your normal needs can also be claimed if they are incurred due to being summoned.
FORM THREE: Your time in court chart
It’s important to note down the times that you’re in court so you have details for your loss of earnings claim. It takes a second but don’t leave it till the end. We all had to double-check our times with the very organised Optometrist in our jury selection.
Voir Dire: The selection
My name was the first of fifteen people to be called out. We were taken to court and told what the case was about by the judge. If anyone knew the defendant or anyone to do with the case they had to raise their hand. One person did and was questioned (when the rest of us were asked to leave) and then released. Then names were pulled at random and the 12 jurors were selected. The others went back into the waiting room to wait for another case.
In comparison, the shooting case had 25 people go to court for selection. They were given a long list of names to check if they knew. That selection took all day.
Our 12 were a really interesting mix. We had three teachers, an Optometrist, Software designer, PA (who earns a FORTUNE), and a mum. We were all ages, ethnicities, and personalities. It was really interesting.
Hearing the case:
Our case was about arson and we had to decide whether the defendant had intended to harm someone or not. When you hear it like that it seems cut and dry. Fire + house = harm. But once you hear the case and you get all the details (kind of- it depends on what the barristers ask and the responses) you have to make a decision.
There were two counts against the defendant and one had already been to court. We had to just decide on what we heard in court.
This case lasted four days. We were in and out. It felt like hardly anything happened and then we were sent back out.
More in and out
We were given a juror room to leave our coats in (it was November) and also somewhere to each lunch and meet before going into court each day.
Whenever we needed to go into court an Usher would come to the room, gather us up, lead us to the court and then we all had to sit outside until the judge was ready for us. Then we would all file in. We needed to sit in the same seats each time.
Sometimes the judge would want to talk without us hearing so we would all file out, wait on the seats outside until we were called back in.
We were in and out a lot. I don’t think we were in court more than four or five hours but it took four days of in and out for that case to be heard.
A word about our judge
The defendant in our case had mental health issues and was accompanied by two carers from his mental health care unit. Our judge was very compassionate about his needs and not letting it all get too much. Even as a juror just watching the process was quite stressful. That may be just me or maybe it’s because you know this person’s life is affected by what’s going on. I found it exhausting. They obviously feel is so much more.
The judge made sure the defendant got lots of breaks and if his deposition was going on too long he would halt for a break. I was really impressed once I realised that was what was going on.
At points during the case, the Judge would stop and explain to us what was happening and what was expected of us. He was calm and fair and I thought he was great. He was not what I was expecting in a judge.
Don’t talk about the case
I’m sure you know that you aren’t allowed to talk about the case with anyone other than your fellow jurors. To be honest – as someone who talks A LOT I found this strangely easy. I didn’t want to talk about the case. I didn’t want anyone else opinion and I definitely didn’t want to look up the case on line. The court is local so there’s always a chance you know someone who knows someone.
Talking it to death with my jurors was enough.
On the morning of deliberation, we were picked up from our room. Before we left our phones and laptops were locked away in a locker so you can’t make calls or look anything up.
The judge had told us what to do and that we needed to be “unequivocally sure of our verdict”. When we started to deliberate we were 10:2. It took all of 10 minutes to be 12:0.
Without going into details it was a really sad situation. The kind that make you really grateful for your life.
Managing work commitments
I’d say it’s almost impossible to plan for jury service. If you’ve got a shoot booked in and you say you can’t be a juror and then you have a shoot on the alternative dates the court may insist you attend and may not let you refuse. Two of the teachers in my jury service needed to be at school and were refused leave.
The only thing is that you are compensated for your time. I sent off my paperwork to the court via email, which is a pretty simple thing to do. You just send off the time sheet form with your travel expenses and a copy of your last tax return as well as your bank details and they pay into your account the money within a few weeks. It’s not going to be your day rate but it’s a decent chunk to keep you going.
I have to say that serving on a jury really is an interesting and kind of rewarding experience. I’m glad I’ve done it but I hope I don’t have to do it again too soon. I’ll stick to being responsible for my just kids if that’s okay.
I hope this has been useful and interesting and puts you in a position that when you get that summons letter you’re in a good position to know what to do.
If you have any questions or concerns about jury service as a freelancer, you can seek advice from the court or check out the links below.