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Give Juries A Real Job

Give Juries A Real Job

Wednesday 14 Apr 2004 Stephen Franks Press Releases -- Crime & Justice

Labour's proposal to tinker with juries distracts attention from its refusal to undertake real criminal justice reform, ACT New Zealand Justice spokesman Stephen Franks said today.

"People are right to worry that a lawyer on a jury would exercise undue influence. It could go either way: others could devolve responsibility to the `expert', or resent and resist their sound advice," Mr Franks said.

"Research shows how easily people shift responsibility for unpleasant decisions on to experts and authority figures. Fewer people might duck jury duty if the job had more meaning.

"Real reform might give the jury a job it's suited for - to say what the community thinks of the crime by fixing the sentence. But juries are treated like a computer black box: selected data is fed in, no one's allowed to know how it's processed or, in theory, to question the result.

"In practice, lawyers and judges try to steer juries with arcane and patronising rules about what they can hear or see, and what they can't. Despite protestations that juries are usually sensible and safe, the evidence rules show the law establishment doesn't really trust them.

"If 12 community representatives were guided by the `sentencing' tariff, they could do just as well as the judges in deciding whether an offence should fall at the severe or light end of the punishment scale.

"Many people don't trust judges' sentencing. It's plain they are biased toward leniency, and maximum sentences are rarely seen. This can't mean that crimes are never at the worst end of the seriousness scale.

"Real reform would allow victims a right to suggest what should happen to a criminal, to match the rights given to criminals and their families to tell the court what they think should happen. Juries could weigh them up," Mr Franks said.

ENDS

For more information visit ACT online at http://www.act.org.nz or contact the ACT Parliamentary Office at act@parliament.govt.nz.

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