Can domestic helpers be required for jury service?
Jury service is an integral part of the Hong Kong legal system and it is an important civic duty. Jurors are Hong Kong residents who have been sworn to hear and pass verdict on an accused person in a criminal case (and in some civil actions). Deliberating together and with no other persons present, they decide on the facts in a case on the basis of the evidence brought forward in court.
Are domestic helpers required for jury service?
Yes. According to the Department of Justice, all Hong Kong residents, including foreign domestic helpers, are legally bound to render jury service as long as they meet the criteria set for the role.
The Jury Ordinance, Cap. 3 provides that a person is liable to serve as a juror if he/she meets the qualifications set out in Section 4 of the Jury Ordinance, such as:
(1) being of sound mind and not affected by disabilities such as blindness or deafness;
(2) aged no less than 21 and not more than 64 years old;
(3) of good character; and
(4) having sufficient knowledge of the language to be used in the court proceedings.
What if I have received a letter from the Registrar, High Court?
First, check what type of letter this is. There are two types of letters you could receive:
- The Registrar, High Court, will serve a notice on you, notifying that your name is about to be added to the list of jurors. You do not need to respond to this letter. It is a letter to notify you that you have been added to the computer system and there is a chance you will be randomly selected in the future.
- The Registrar, High Court, each week draws at random a number of jurors from the list. If you are selected, a summons will be sent to you by registered post requesting your presence in the High Court or the Coroner’s Court on a certain date. A summons is a legal document and it is an official order to appear in court. You are usually given at least 21 days’ notice in respect of a call for jury service. You need to follow the date and location specified in the summons and attend in-person.
If you have received a summons, what do you need to do?
We recommend that you first have an open conversation with your employer to notify your employer that you are required to serve jury service. Then make necessary arrangements for you to attend the required time and date as per the letter. You may need your employer to ask their family members to help during the time of your jury service or make other arrangements.
If you wish to seek exemption from jury service, you should write to the Registrar, High Court, setting out the reasons in full within 14 days of receiving the summons. The Registrar will consider your application for exemption, and may either agree to or turn down your request. Exemptions are not lightly granted. Only a certain group of people, such as members of the Executive or Legislative Council, judges and officers of tribunals, lawyers and journalists are exempted from jury service. Domestic helpers do not fall within this group so you must apply for an exemption if needed.
According to section 32 of the Jury Ordinance, failure to attend in response to a summons to juror is an offence. Once called for jury service, a person must show up in court and comply with the order. If a juror does not show up when called or withdraws after appearance without the judge’s permission, he/she shall be guilty of an offense and liable to a $5,000 fine unless a valid reason is given.
The Jury Ordinance also penalizes an employer who terminates, threatens to fire or discriminates against a worker for performing jury service. He/she shall be guilty of an offense and liable to a $25,000 fine and 3 months imprisonment. This means that your employer cannot deny or discriminate against you to perform the jury service. Again, have an open and clear communication with your employer to prevent any misunderstandings or confusion.
How do I request an exemption?
You should only request an exemption if you have a valid reason or justification as to why you cannot serve jury service. This could include undue hardship or undue inconvenience may be caused to the person or any person under your care or supervision. For example, you cannot leave employers’ home because you need to look after elderly, or those who are sick and cannot care for themselves. In this case, you should write this reason in your letter to the judge and you need to provide supporting documents to prove that you have someone with illness under your care e.g. a medical note or doctor consultation note of the patient under your care and provide proof that this is your employer.
If you think that you do not have sufficient language abilities (English or Cantonese) to meet the criteria as required by the court, you need to write a letter to state your name, the reason, your HKID number, your nationality and passport copy to prove your nationality for the Court to consider your application for exemption.
Please note that this information serves as a reference only and you should only request an exemption if you have a valid and legitimate reason after assessing your own capacity to perform the duties of a juror. You could be sentenced in jail if you fake incapacity to serve as a juror. The final decision of an exemption is granted by the judge.
If you are not granted an exemption, then you must appear at court at the date and time specified in the summons letter. You need to make the necessary arrangements with your employer so that you can serve on the jury. Make it clear with your employer the date and time that you are required to serve and share any details specified in the letter.
More information about the jury service:
How long will the trial last?
Criminal trials usually take one to three weeks and death inquests up to a few days. The trial judge or the coroner will inform members of the jury of the anticipated length of the case.
What are the duties of a juror?
In a criminal trial, jurors decide, based on the facts, whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty. In a death inquest, jurors decide the cause of and the circumstances connected with a death.
Although the trial judge decides which evidence the jury may hear, it is for the jury to decide the weight to be attached to such evidence when considering their verdict.
The jury’s deliberations are confidential. Members of the jury should take great care never to discuss the case with anyone other than their fellow members in the course of the trial. Do not share any information about the case with your employer or anyone else.
Are domestic workers supposed to be paid salary during jury service?
Yes. Employers cannot deduct the salary if the domestic worker needs to do jury service. If you get called to court on a work day, you are legally allowed to take a leave from work in order to act as a juror.
Employers are not allowed to deny employees jury duty leave, nor are they allowed to deduct from their employees’ salaries and leave allowances in exchange for said leave. The ordinance requires employers to grant the leave as needed and to not deduct any pay or leaves from their employees, thus granting them what is essentially a paid leave.
The Jury Ordinance also penalizes an employer who terminates, threatens to fire or discriminates against a worker for performing jury service. He/she shall be guilty of an offense and liable to a $25,000 fine and 3 months imprisonment.
Will jurors be paid for their work?
Once selected to serve as a member of the jury, the juror will receive an allowance for each day during the whole or part of which the juror serves. Jurors will also be given an allowance of $930 for each day they serve in court.
What happens on the day I appear in the High Court?
You should arrive at the High Court Building according to the time specified in the summons and go to the Jurors Assembly Room on the first floor.
The Judiciary staff will meet you at the Jurors Assembly Room and check your identity. You will be shown a video that clearly explains the selection procedure and what a juror in a criminal trial has to do.
What happens on the day I appear in the Coroner’s Court?
You should arrive at the Coroner’s Court at 9/F, Tower A, West Kowloon Law Courts Building, 501 Tung Chau Street, Sham Shui Po, Kowloon, Hong Kong or such place to be used as the Coroner’s Court according to the time and place specified in the summons. The Judiciary staff will check your identity, explain the selection procedure and tell you what a juror in a coroner’s inquest has to do.
For more information, please read here: https://www.judiciary.hk/en/jury/jury.html
Disclaimer: this information serves as reference purpose only and does not constitute legal advice; and it is based on the information available as of 19 January, 2022.