Jury Service: Your Rights As A Parent

The post lands with a thump and you race to retrieve it before your toddler gets there first with their jam covered hands. Amongst the junk mail and bills you find a plain windowed envelope addressed to you. You open it and the big pink letters immediately jump out of you: Jury Summons (incidentally, we think they use pink in a vain attempt to make it look friendly and welcoming, sort of like they are inviting you to afternoon tea). “Bollocks” you mutter. “Bollocks” your toddler copies. You’ll deal with that faux pas later, but in the meantime, you start wondering if there is any way out of this.

Why Did They Pick Me For Jury Service?

Shocked woman reading a letter

You might be wondering why they picked you for jury service. You may have watched every episode of Luther, or cackled with glee at Judge Rinder, but you’re certainly no legal eagle. Before you start celebrating the idea that the courts somehow think you are a fountain of wisdom, you should probably understand that being summoned for jury service is completely random. Essentially your name was pulled out of a really big hat of names of people on the electoral register.

I Have A Child, Can I Get Out Of Jury Service?

Portrait of serious child girl judge makes a decision.

Unfortunately, being a parent or someone with childcare obligations does not automatically exclude you from being summoned to serve on a jury. There are very few reasons why a person would be automatically ineligible from serving on a jury, and these relate to those who come under the Mental Health / Mental Capacity Acts, and those who are subject or who have been subject to criminal proceedings. Everyone else is fair game.

In your jury pack that you will receive with your letter, there is a form to complete (you can also do it online) and on this form you can ask to be excused. You will need to outline the reasons why, but it’s worth bearing in mind that the courts would much prefer that you request a deferral instead. A deferral is where you ask to serve on a different date to the one you have been summoned for, within 12 months of your summons. Generally, a deferral request will be accepted if you have a fairly good reason, such as a holiday booked, hospital appointment, childcare issues, etc., but you will need to provide three alternative dates for when you can start your service. You can also only apply for a deferral once.

Reasons To Be Excused From Jury Service

If you wish to be excused from jury service you will need to provide a good reason why. Certain professions can be excused, such as those who work in healthcare, education, or in some sectors of the civil service, especially if they can demonstrate the problems that their absence from work will cause.

With regards to childcare, as mentioned above, the courts would much prefer it if you apply for a deferral. You may be able to apply for an excusal, but you need to be prepared for the possibility that the courts will simply defer your service instead. Generally, an excusal will only be granted if you can demonstrate that your circumstances mean that you will not be able to serve at any point in the next 12 months.

You will need to provide full details of your circumstances. For example, it might be that you are a nursing mother, a parent / full time carer to a child with special educational needs or physical disabilities, or a single parent with several children. You may have a young baby or be in late stage pregnancy. You may have no family nearby who can provide childcare, and your partner may not be able to get annual leave to cover it. When writing your application for excusal, consider your financial circumstances along with the practicalities of your situation.

For example, if you have young children, then the cost of childcare may result in financial hardship, given that there is a maximum amount of money that you can claim back from the courts (see below) for each day that you serve. Your case will be considered sympathetically, but as mentioned above, a deferral is more likely to be granted rather than an excusal.

Arranging Childcare For Jury Service

Preschooler enjoying playing with his airplane toy

If you have accepted your summons or had your request for deferral / excusal denied then it’s time to start looking for childcare. If you have family and friends in the area then don’t be afraid to ask for help. Most people would recognise that this is a one-off situation and would be happy to pitch in. In fact, you will probably be surprised at just how many people are willing to help out.

If you don’t have family or friends to call on, then you will need to look at professional settings, assuming your child isn’t already placed in one. For children who are too young for school, you will need to find a nursery or childminder, but it’s worth noting that most of these places will require a month’s notice to quit, as well as a settling in period. Therefore, whilst your jury service may only be for two weeks, you may need to book childcare for a much longer period. It’s a good idea to research this possibility when applying for an excusal or deferral, as this will strengthen your case.

For children who are in school, then you maybe able to use a mixture of after school clubs, childminders who do school pick-ups, and play dates. If you can offer to host play dates in return you might find there are several parents who are willing to take your child one afternoon after school during your jury service.

Financial Support For Jury Service

Money Bag And Judge's Hammer.

You don’t get much choice when it comes to serving as a juror, but the good news is that you do get some financial compensation for doing so. The bad news is that it isn’t much, especially when you may have travel / childcare costs and a loss of earnings to cover.

If you are in court for more than four hours, then the maximum you can claim is £64.95 per day. This drops down to £32.47 if you are in court for less than four hours (figures correct January 2020). This covers everything, including loss of earnings, childcare, and travel. Given that the average cost of childcare in the UK is £242 per week for a full time placement, it’s easy to see why jury service can potentially cause financial hardship for parents, especially when you factor in the other associated costs.

Claiming For Loss Of Earnings

If you’re lucky, you may have an understanding employer who agrees to pay your normal salary throughout your service. Your employer can claim back some money directly from the courts and there is normally a form in your jury summons pack for your employer to complete in this case. If, however, your employer refuses to pay you, then you must claim back your loss of earnings using the form provided in your summons pack. It’s worth noting that your employer cannot dismiss you for attending jury service, but they can ask that you request a deferral for business reasons.

If you are self-employed then you will need to inform the Jury Bailiff (the person who will be your point of contact in the courts during your service) on your first day of service. It would be helpful if you can bring along a letter from your accountant detailing your loss of earnings and your income over the previous tax year. If you don’t have an accountant, then bring along a copy of your latest tax return.

Claiming For Childcare

You can only claim for childcare if you have booked it especially for jury service. Therefore, if you have a childcare place that you normally pay for as part of your work, or an after school club that your child normally attends, you cannot claim for this.

If you have needed to book additional childcare for your jury service, you can claim for this. Your jury bailiff can provide you with a form that you and your childcare provider will both need to complete.

As mentioned above, there is a maximum amount that you can claim each day, and this includes childcare costs. Therefore, if you are not employed and have to pay for a full time childcare placement solely for jury service, you may have a good case for deferral / excusal thanks to the financial hardship this will cause.

Other Costs

You can also claim for travel on public transport. If you wish to travel by car you will need to gain permission from the jury bailiff to do this before you can claim petrol and parking costs. You will need to keep tickets, etc. for proof when completing your claim form.

Finally, you are also entitled to £5.71 per day for food and drink costs. Again, both travel and subsistence claims contribute to the maximum amount that you are entitled to claim each day.

During Your Jury Service

Judge talking with lawyers

You will be given a time and date to attend court and you will need to be prepared to attend every weekday for two weeks. Very rarely, some cases will take you over the two weeks, and if this is going to cause additional problems you can appeal to the judge to be excused.

Bring a book with you as there will be plenty of waiting around. Usually, the court will summon more people than are needed by the courts. This is so there are enough jurors available if jurors are off sick or are unable to serve on a case because of any links they may personally have to those involved in the case. As a result, it may be the case that you will attend court every day but not actually be chosen for a jury. However, because of the way courts work, it’s also possible that you won’t find out that you are not needed and therefore free to go home / return to work, until the afternoon. If you want to take something valuable with you, such as a laptop to work on, some courts have locker facilities available for jurors, and you can check this in advance.

Even if you do get chosen to serve on a jury for a case, you can still expect to spend a lot of time in the jury waiting area, as there will inevitably be delays and occasions when information that the jury is not privy to is discussed in court, such as previous convictions, etc.

Jury facilities vary from court to court, but you can typically expect some vending machines, comfortable seating areas, as well as tables, and some basic kitchen facilities, such as fridges and microwaves.

You will get a lunch break, the timings of which will be determined by the court, and you can usually leave the court during this time. However, if you are going to struggle financially then it’s a good idea to bring your own lunch in from home, as you can claim the daily £5.71 for food and drink regardless, with no receipts required.

If you are ill during your jury service, or encounter problems on your commute to the court, then it’s important to inform the court as soon as possible, that morning. You can be fined up to £1000 and receive a custodial sentence for contempt of court if you do not attend your jury service without a good reason. If you are ill, you may be required to provide a doctor’s note in support of this.

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