5. Exemption periods
5.1 Once an individual has attended court as a juror in answer to their jury citation they are entitled to be excused as of right from jury duty for up to 5 years. This takes them out of the available juror pool for a substantial length of time therefore lowering the pool of available jurors which the court service may draw on.
5.2 It is important to note that this entitlement has a cumulative effect. Currently some 400,000 people per year are entitled to be excused as of right by virtue of having arrived at court in response to a citation. In tandem with this, the Scottish Court Service is increasing the numbers cited each year in response to the growth in indictments and in cases where evidence is led - both of which are indicative of growth in demand for jurors. These factors taken together mean that the search for jurors is taking place against a backdrop of increasing numbers who are unavailable. When those not registered on the electoral register are taken into account, along with those on invalidity benefit and those too elderly to serve - and with those currently on 5 year entitlement to excusal as of right - the overall proportion of the population that is effectively exempt from service is estimated at being over 10%, and rising. In England and Wales, jurors are entitled to be excused for 2 years following any citation.
5.3 The current system makes no distinction between those jurors who attend at court as required but do not then get picked from the ballot to serve, and those who attend and are selected by ballot to form part of a jury in a case. Those jurors who do not ultimately serve on a jury receive the same 5 year entitlement to excusal as of right from service as those who are selected to serve.
5.4 To relieve the pressures on the juror pool in parts of Scotland, the Scottish Government proposes to reduce the period of entitlement to excusal as of right from 5 years to 2 years for those jurors who attend at court but who are not selected by ballot to sit on a jury. It is not the intention that this would be a retrospective change; rather it would apply from an agreed date once appropriate legislative change was in place. The Scottish Court Service calculates that this change would add back some 195,000 individuals into the juror pool. This change would be effected by primary legislation.
5.5 For those individuals who do sit on a jury, the current 5 year entitlement to excusal as of right would remain in place. Of course, not everyone takes up their excusal entitlement and some are happy to be cited again in less than 5 years. It should also be noted that a judge has the power, for example following particularly long or difficult trials, to direct that jurors be excused from service for any period, up to and including excusal for life. That power would also remain unaffected by any change.
5.6 Citations of jurors for the Sheriff Court in Scotland is covered by section 84(4) of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995 which Act allows potential jurors to be cited only from the Sheriff Court district in which a trial is to be held. Jury trials do not take place in every Sheriff Court district, however, particularly where the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service and/or Scottish Court Service take the decision that jury trials from a particular district should take place in another district within the same Sheriffdom 2. The effect of section 84(4) is that individuals who live in districts where Sheriff Court jury trials are no longer held are precluded from undertaking jury service. There are good reasons, such as security concerns and pressure of other business, as to why jury trials may be moved from one court to another. However, an unfortunate outcome of the way the legislation is currently framed is that there are members of the population who are precluded from undertaking what is an important civic duty.
5.7 The Scottish Government is of the view that there is a need to legislate to prevent individuals being precluded from undertaking jury service by virtue only of their residing in a particular Sheriff Court district. If Section 84(4) of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995 were amended to allow for the pool of jurors to be selected from those either within the Sheriff Court district or the Sheriffdom as a whole the issue of individuals being precluded from undertaking jury service by virtue of where they live would be removed. The Scottish Government would welcome your views on this.
5.8 There would also require to be a complementary provision to confer on the Sheriff Principal the same authority as that which the Lord Justice General has in respect of citations for jury service in the High Court of Justiciary. This would allow the Sheriff Principal to create a citation list of prospective jurors which would be drawn from both the district in which the jury trials are held and, also, other districts within his Sheriffdom, if he so wishes. This would only happen in circumstances as outlined above where individuals are precluded from undertaking jury service due to operational changes resulting in jury trial no longer being held in their local Sheriff Court district. Any list drafted by the Sheriff Principal would need to be adaptable and capable of being changed year-on-year to adapt to changes in circumstances and meet local needs.
- Do you agree with the proposal to reduce the period of entitlement to excusal as of right from 5 to 2 years for those individuals who, following citation, attend at court but are not selected by ballot to serve on a jury?
- Do you agree that Section 84(4) of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995 be amended to allow for the pool of jurors to be selected from those either within the Sheriff Court district or the Sheriffdom as a whole?