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Goff announces increase in payments to jurors

Wed, 19 May 2004

Goff announces increase in payments to jurors

Jurors' fees are to be increased and they will be able to claim parking and childcare expenses as part of a $9 million package in this year's Budget, Justice Minister Phil Goff announced today.

Mr Goff also announced legislative proposals aimed at improving participation in the jury system.

"The right to trial by one's peers is a long-standing feature of our justice system," Mr Goff said.

"That right can only be preserved if ordinary New Zealanders are able and willing to play their part. We need to have sufficient juror numbers to avoid trial delays, and juries should be representative of all walks of life.

"It is therefore important to alleviate financial barriers that make it harder for people to do their civic duty. Juror fees have never provided full compensation for loss of income, but reasonable fees and expenses should be met.

"New legislative provisions will allow people to defer jury service for up to 12 months. This will allow those summonsed for jury service more flexibility to choose a time that fits better with other responsibilities, rather than seeking exemptions from jury service. Jury districts will also be increased in size to capture a wider base, and therefore reduce the likely frequency of selection.

"More flexibility will be applied to the sequestering of jurors, such as only requiring them in exceptional cases to stay in a hotel overnight if they have not finished deliberating.

"At the same time, sanctions are required for summons evaders, and legislation to be introduced shortly will increase the penalty for evading jury duty from $300 to $1000.

"The same legislation will also make it an offence for employers to prejudice the position of an employee because that person is on jury service." Mr Goff said the fee increase and planned legislative changes were part of an overhaul designed to strengthen juries and make it easier for people to serve on them.

"Majority (11 to 1) verdicts will replace unanimous verdicts to reduce the prospect of hung juries where a decision cannot be reached. This will both reduce the frustration of having hung juries because of a single, sometimes rogue, juror and also allow an individual who on conscience may disagree with the majority to honestly express their final view.

"Trials by judge alone will be permitted when there is evidence that jurors have been or may be intimidated, or the case is technically complex and will take longer than a month.

"Juror safety, and protection against possible intimidation, will also be increased by restricting the distribution of juror lists."

Mr Goff said the increase in juror fees would return them to the same proportion of the average hour wage they were when last adjusted in 1996 - 58 per cent of the average hourly wage for the first five days of service and then 75 per cent for the sixth and subsequent days.

The increases will see jurors paid $31 (up from $25) for up to three hours; $62 ($50) for a full day; $89 ($70) if attending later than 6pm, and $127 ($100) after 9pm. On the sixth day, rates increase to $40 for up to three hours (previously $35), $80 for a full day ($70), $114 after 6pm ($100) and $163 after 9pm ($140).

Budget 2004 has set aside $9 million over the next four years to cover the increase, plus the car parking and childcare allowances.

ENDS

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