Jury Duty [joo r-ee dyoo-tee] (n.)
- A civic obligation wherein one person serves as a juror in a legal proceeding to determine, inter alia, the guilt or innocence of another.
- An often unwelcome interruption to daily life that some will go to any lengths to escape.
Jurors play a vital role in the conduct of a trial. Despite this, jury duty is often considered a hassle and those randomly selected will go to Saw-style lengths to avoid it. Certain professions (eg clergy, emergency services and practising doctors) are exempt, while others (eg politicians, legal practitioners and the Governor-General) are excluded from the roll. Yet others (eg undischarged bankrupts, disqualified drivers and terrorists) are excluded for other, more obvious reasons. But it is unwise to commit a crime as a means to that end and impractical to enroll in and complete a law/medical degree solely for that purpose.
One often hears suggestions for “escaping” jury duty which include advice like, “just say you hate all races equally” or “pretend you once went golfing with the magistrate”. This too is unwise, for in doing so, you may fall foul of common law “contempt in the face of court” offences, and those contained within the various State and Territory Jury Acts. While the Acts prohibit jurors from, among other things, supplying false or misleading information “for the purpose of evading jury service” (see, eg Jury Act 1977 (NSW), s 62(2)), case law has defined proper juror conduct in other respects. Where a judicial officer perceives some challenge to the court’s authority, they are entitled to fine or imprison to preserve that authority.
The largest proportion of contempt charges are given to witnesses who refuse to answer questions, or unhappy litigants insulting the court. In Noah v Bailey  FMCA 1426, one party was sentenced to time served for calling the magistrate “a disgrace”, forgetting that a courtroom microphone doesn’t necessarily stop recording just because the judicial officer has retired to chambers (a decision reversed in Clampett v Attorney-General (Cth)  FCAFC 151 for miscarriage of discretion).
Other contempt charges have more direct bearing on juror behaviour. Zukanovic v Magistrates’ Court (Vic)  VSC 141 provides warning against blowing bubblegum in court, if common sense weren’t warning enough. Re Bauskis  NSWSC 908 warns anyone in court, jurors included, against the wearing of inappropriate, slogan-bearing t-shirts. Langdell v Sutton (1737) 94 ER 791 warns against reaching a verdict by coin toss. Appearing drunk and disorderly to the panel was reason enough in R v Tomlinson (unreported, VSC, Beach J, 7229 of 1995, 16 January 1996) while refusing to pass judgment on another amounted to contempt in R v Schot  2 Cr App R 383.
Certainly there are good reasons not to be empanelled (eg if you know the defendant). It might seem a grand joke to wear an “Equal Opportunity Hater” t-shirt to court, but consider, is it really worth the contempt charge, fine and possible prison time? Much better to bring a book, an infinite patience, and a Gilbert & Sullivan-inspired sense of duty.
Contempt of court is discussed in the updated The Laws of Australia Subtitle 10.11 “Administration of Law and Justice”.
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