Although a jury is not required in every legal case, the jury continues to fulfil a very important function in the Irish legal system. While the majority of civil cases such as personal injuries actions, commercial disputes and family law cases are heard and decided by a Judge, other cases most notably defamation claims can be dealt with by a Jury at the option of the parties.
The jury consists of 12 members of the public and the jury must reach its verdict based solely on the evidence given to the Court. The jury does not interpret the law. When the evidence is concluded the Judge will assist the Jury by summing up the evidence and the Judge will give directions as regards legal matters
The rules relating to eligibility for jury service in Ireland are contained within the Juries Act 1976 (as amended). In general every Irish or British citizen in Ireland who is over the age of 18 and on the Register of Electors is eligible for jury service but this is subject to certain exception.
Potential jurors are contacted by summons of the County Registrar a number of weeks in advance of having to attend for jury service. Where a potential juror cannot attend for jury service or is disqualified or exempt from jury service an application can be made to the County Registrar in advance. All potential jurors not excused must attend in court on the first day the panel is formed.
At the outset the Judge will outline the case in brief. The Court Clerk or Registrar will then proceed to draw the names of jurors from a ballot box. Those juror selected must indicate if they have any conflict i.e. if any of the parties or even the witnesses in the case are known to them. It is open to either the Prosecution or the Defence in a criminal trial or the Plaintiff or the Defendant in a civil trial to challenge jurors. Each side may challenge seven potential jurors without giving any reason and may challenge any number of jurors if they can “show cause”.
The jurors selected will swear an oath or affirm that they will properly try the issue and give a true verdict according to the evidence. When the jury is sworn in and before the case starts, it will select a foreman who acts as spokesperson of the jury.
There is no payment for jury service. A juror who is self-employed and works alone may be excused in circumstances where his / her attendance at jury service may impact on his / her ability to earn a living. However Section 29 of the Juries Act 1976 places an obligation on a juror’s employer to both release the juror to attend for jury service and to pay the juror while on jury service. The law also provides that time spent on jury service is to be treated as if the employee were actually employed and there should be no loss of any other employment rights.