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Government promoting representative juries

Hon Phil Goff
Minister of Justice
20 June 2005

Media statement

Government promoting representative juries

The big increase in the number of retirees serving on juries in recent years is no surprise, given that people aged over 65 could not serve on juries until the government amended legislation in 2000, Justice Minister Phil Goff said today.

Media reports over the weekend highlighted the fact that there has been a 30-fold increase in the number of people over 65, and a nine-fold increase in the number of retired people serving on juries.

" Around 3000 of the 36,000 jurors required each year are retired people, while 700 are beneficiaries. Suggestions that we should somehow be alarmed by these statistics are misplaced," Mr Goff said.

"The law prohibiting people over 65 from jury service meant that juries were previously by definition unrepresentative of retired people. It was unfounded discrimination and ignored the contribution that retired people can make.

"Older people serving on juries come from all sections of society. Many bring extra maturity and experience to the job rather than 'reduce the pool of available common sense' as has been claimed.

"There are strong grounds for confidence in the fairness and effectiveness of jury trials, which are a longstanding feature of our justice system. Law Commission research shows that jurors generally are conscientious and make sound and impartial decisions. There is also a high degree of consistency between the verdict reached by the jury and the verdict that the presiding judge said he or she would have given.

"However the government is mindful of the importance of juries being representative of all sections of society, as juries often in effect apply community standards in their decision-making.

"A 1995 study showed 56 per cent of people being summoned for jury trials were excused, while 18 per cent simply did not turn up. The Criminal Procedure Bill currently before Parliament will help address this issue by making jury service less onerous through such things as:

- Allowing people to defer jury service for up to 12 months to a more convenient time of their choice;
- Increasing the size of jury districts to ensure a greater pool of jurors for each court;
- Making it an offence for employers to prejudice the position of an employee because that person is on jury service;
- Increases the penalty for failing to turn up for jury duty from $300 to $1000.

"Last year the government provided $9 million in the Budget to increase daily payments to jurors, and to introduce payments for car parking and child care.

"The experience of sitting on a panel is also being improved through such things as the provision of written explanatory material, notes of evidence, instructional videos and assistance from jury attendants.

"The Criminal Procedure Bill also introduces majority (11 to 1) verdicts in place of unanimous decisions, which will reduce the prospect of hung juries – something that has become more frequent in recent years.

"Jurors will only be sequestered in hotels overnight while deliberating in exceptional cases, and although jury tampering or intimidation is not common in New Zealand, trials will be able to be conducted by a judge alone when there is evidence of attempted intimidation.

"Taken as a whole, these changes will make jury service easier and more satisfying, and will strengthen what is a vital part of our justice system and democratic society," Mr Goff said.

ENDS

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