Who qualifies for jury service? And when is a person disqualified?

The Basic Qualifications

Before 1972, and the Morris Committee report on jury service, in order to qualify for jury service you had to be an owner of a house or a tenant of a dwelling.  

This restriction meant that women and young people were less likely to qualify for jury service as they were less likely to own their own property or rent a dwelling in their own name.  

As a result of this the juries were not very representative of the community, they were more likely to have a vast male opinion and approach to justice, which could be argued was very discriminatory and biased.

Jury Qualifications under the Juries Act 1974

In order to qualify for jury service today, a person must be: 

  • Between the ages of 18 and 70 years old
  • Registered to vote on the government electoral register
  • A registered citizen in the United Kingdom, the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man for at least 5years since their thirteenth birthday  

And a person must not be: 

  • A mentally disordered person, or,
  • Disqualified from jury service for a particular reason

When is a person disqualified from jury service

Certain criminal convictions will disqualify members of the public from becoming a juror. The type of sentence, including the severity and categorisation of the crime as well as the length of the sentence passed by the courts will determine whether or not a person is disqualified from jury service and the length of time the person is disqualified for.

Permanent disqualification

A person will be permanently disqualified from jury service, if at any time during his life, he has been sentenced to: 

  • Life imprisonment, detention for life or to remain in custody for life
  • Detention at Her Majesty’s pleasure or at the pleasure of the secretary of state
  • Sentence to a term imprisonment or detention for public protection
  • An extended sentence
  • A term of imprisonment or detention for a period of 5years or more

Disqualification for a period of 10years

A person will be disqualified from participating in jury service for a period of 10 years if: 

  • They have served a prison sentence of any length within the last 10years
  • They have received a suspended sentence any time within the last 10 years
  • Any time within the last 10 years they have been given a community order or sentence 
  • Any person that is currently on bail by the police or the courts will not be permitted to sit as a juror on jury service.  

If a person would ordinarily be disqualified from jury service, but fails to provide the required information in order to sit as a juror, they will face a fine of up to £5000.

Mentally disordered persons

A person who is defined by the law as a mentally disordered person includes:  

‘A person who has suffered or is suffering from mental illness, psychopathic disorder, mental handicap or severe mental handicap and on amount of that condition either: 

  • Is resident in a hospital or similar institution, or,
  • Regularly attends some institution for treatment by a medical practitioner.  
  • A person for the time being under guardianship under the Mental Health Act 1993 
  • A person the courts have decided is incapable of administering his property and affairs’.

Lack of Capacity

A judge has the ability to discharge a person from jury service if he believes that they lack the capacity to cope with the information needed for the trial.   

This may be if the person cannot sufficiently understand English, and therefore unable to understand any evidence given, or there may be some disability that will make the person unsuitable to sit as a juror, such as a person who is blind and therefore would be unsuitable in a trial where they would need to see evidence.

The right to be excused from Jury service

Before April 2004, certain professionals, such as doctors and pharmacists, had the right to be excused from Jury service if they did not want to participate. 

The Criminal Justice Act 2003 abolished this exception. This means that doctors and medical staff can no longer refuse to participate in jury service, but may apply for a discretionary excusal.

Members of the armed forces

Any member of any armed forces may be excused from jury service if their commandi8ng officer provides a statement that certifies that the armed force member’s absence from service would be prejudicial to the efficiency of the service.

Discretionary Excusals

Anyone who has problems in participating in jury service, may ask to be excused or for their period of jury service to be postponed and reorganised for a later date. 

It is completely up to the discretion of the court to grant the excusal, but they most usually grant excusal if there is a sufficiently good reason.   

Some of the reason the courts may grant an excusal for include; 

  • A person being too ill to attend
  • A person suffers from a disability that prevents them from attending
  • A mother with a small baby
  • Business appointments that cannot be missed as they are key to the development of the business
  • Examinations
  • Pre-booked holidays 

In these situations the courts are most likely to change the date in which the person has t attend jury service rather than exclude them completely from sitting as a juror.  

If a person is supposed to attend jury service but fails to do so without exclusion, they may be faced with a fine of up to £1000 for non-attendance.