The jury fulfils a very important function in the legal system. You are entitled to be tried by jury inless the alleged offence is a minor one or one that is being tried in the Special Criminal Court. However, a jury is not required in every legal case. There will be a jury in some civil cases such as defamation and assault cases. However, for the majority of civil cases such as personal injuries actions and family law cases, there is no jury - it is the judge who decides the outcome.
The jury consists of 12 members of the public who sit in a box to one side of the judge. One of the jurors is selected as a foreman of the jury by the members of the jury before the case starts. He or she acts as an informal chairperson and spokesperson for the jury.
The 12 jurors in a case are selected from a number of people who have been called to do their jury service on that day.
The jurors are charged with the responsibility of deciding whether, on the facts of the case, a person is guilty or not guilty of the offence for which he or she has been charged.
The jury must reach its verdict by considering only the evidence introduced in court and the directions of the judge. The jury does not interpret the law. It follows the directions of the judge as regards legal matters.
During all stages of the trial, jurors may take notes of proceedings. Jurors may also pass notes to the foreman or forewoman of the jury to ask the judge to explain certain aspects of the case.
At the conclusion of the trial, the jurors are given an issue paper, which states the issues that the jury must consider in reaching its verdict. A Court Garda or other official is required to keep the jury together until the verdict is reached. The jury is taken into the jury room and allowed no outside communication at all, with the exception of notes to the Court Registrar. They may keep a copy of the indictment, the exhibits and their notes.
Jurors may send out notes asking for the law to be further explained or for the judge to remind them of the details of the evidence. They will then be brought back into the court for the judge to give them such assistance as he/she can but there can be no new evidence at this stage.
In reaching its verdict in a criminal trial, the jury must be satisfied that the person is guilty beyond reasonable doubt. Beyond reasonable doubt means that if there are two reasons given in the case and both are possible explanations for what happened, taken together with the evidence presented, the jury should give the person the benefit of the doubt and decide on a verdict of not guilty.
If the case is a civil one, the jury must be satisfied with its verdict on the balance of probabilities.
It is not necessary that a jury be unanimous in its verdict. In a criminal case, a verdict need not be unanimous where there are not fewer than 11 jurors if 10 of them agree on a verdict after considering the case for a reasonable time (not less than two hours). In a civil trial, a verdict may be reached by a majority of 9 of the 12 members.
When the jury has reached its decision, it will return to the court and the verdict will be read out by the foreman.
The jury has no role in sentencing. This decision is left up to the judge following submissions made by both sides.
For more information about acting as a juror, read our document on jury service.
If you have a question relating to this topic you can contact the Citizens Information Phone Service on 0761 07 4000 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 8pm) or you can visit your local Citizens Information Centre.