Irish citizens aged 18 years and over are eligible to serve on a jury. Most people are summoned for jury selection at least once in their lives.
There are some exceptions to this rule. Some people are ineligible due to their occupation (like those involved in the administration of justice); some are excusable due to their work (such as doctors or full-time students); and some are disqualified based on criminal convictions. Others may also avail of exceptions based on health-related or prior service considerations. The Juries Act 1976 (Act) governs the selection and service of jurors.
Jury service, as depicted in film and TV, requires attendance at and commitment to the trial in question. As such, time off from work is generally an inevitability for any employee required to serve on a jury. Under Irish law, employers must facilitate that – through time off from work and paying the employee as if they were at work.
This often leads to the question as to whether employers can require an employee to refuse to attend jury service and report to work as usual.
Jury service and employment
Generally, work commitments are not a sufficient reason to apply for an exemption from jury service. Employees must therefore attend jury service (and be paid by their employer while they attend).
The Act provides that any contractual provision which seeks to stipulate that an employee will not be paid while attending jury service is void. This means employers must pay their employees while they are serving on a jury.
Employers cannot require employees to take annual leave to attend jury service; in fact, employees are considered to be "at work" and are entitled to accrue annual leave and other entitlements during their jury service. There is currently no allowance available to employers to cover the cost (or part of the cost) of an employee being called for jury service.
However, employees themselves may apply for an exemption from jury service if their presence is essential to the running of the business (or for certain other personal reasons such as previous service on a jury or health or childcare concerns, which are personal to the individual).
Employees must apply for any exemption or excusal in their own stead, as the duty to serve on a jury is a personal one which is based on an individual's citizenship and not on their employment status. In other words, the employer cannot apply on behalf of the employee. In addition, the Courts Service does not allow applications for excusal to be made over the phone. Applications must be made online, via email or post. In practice, this means there is a delay in securing a definitive answer regarding employee availability for work.
An application based on the vital nature of the employee to the business should include supporting documentation which sets out why the employee is essential to the running of the business. This usually takes the form of a letter from the employer on company letterhead describing why the employee is indispensable to the business. This application will be considered by the County Registrar, who will decide whether to accept or reject the application.
If an employee does not make an application for exemption from jury service, they will be required to attend on the date specified on the summons, at which point they will receive further information. The employee will only receive additional information before the specified date if there is a change of venue/time or if jury service is no longer required. This is often frustrating for employers as it means they will have no advance notice of the potential length of a trial, and the possible length of absence of an employee.
Will all employees summoned be empanelled on a jury?
On the date specified on the summons, the employee will:
- be sworn in as a juror and given an indication of how long the trial is expected to last; or
- not be sworn in as a juror and be given leave to return to work (unless otherwise directed).
If an employee is sworn in as a juror and is required to attend as a juror at trial, an employer can require that they apply for a certificate of attendance. This certificate verifies the days they are at trial as a juror. This must be requested by the employee personally and is not issued automatically. If an employer requires this, they should make it clear to the employee.
If the jury only sits for a part day on any given day, an employer can require that the employee return to work for the other part of the day, unless the employer has a contradictory policy or custom and practice in place.
Contributed by Oisín O'Callaghan
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.