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Government tightens juror privacy, safety

Hon Simon Power
Minister of Justice

5 April 2011 Media Statement

Government tightens juror privacy, safety

The Government has introduced legislation to tighten juror privacy, safety, and security.

Justice Minister Simon Power today introduced the Juries Amendment Bill, which includes a provision to remove the addresses of potential jurors from jury panel lists.

The bill also addresses other concerns regarding who can serve on juries.

The move on juror addresses comes after convicted murderer George Baker wrote to a juror whose name he saw on a list while he was representing himself in a trial.

"Serving on a jury is an important civic duty and we must do everything we can to make it as safe and as easy as possible,” Mr Power said.

Currently, a jury list must contain the name, occupation, date of birth, and full address of potential jurors.

Since 2008, self-represented defendants have been prohibited from keeping a copy of the jury list or taking notes, but they can inspect it under supervision.

In addition, where there is a real risk that an accused may intimidate jurors, the prosecutor can apply for a judge-alone trial.

“The changes in 2008 were made to protect the privacy of jurors, but the Baker incident highlighted the need to further restrict access to the information.”

The proposed changes will:

• Remove the addresses of potential jurors from jury lists.
• Allow the prosecution, defence lawyer, or the court-appointed adviser to defendants representing themselves to have automatic access to all address information on request.
• Prevent the accused from ever seeing potential jurors' addresses by prohibiting the defence lawyer or court-appointed adviser from showing the addresses to the accused.
• Extend section 14A(6) of the Juries Act – which makes it clear that misconduct in relation to jury lists may be treated as contempt of court – to include the act of showing the accused, or any other person, jurors' addresses.

The bill also:

• Bars people from serving on a jury if they have, in the previous five years, been sentenced to home detention for three months or more. This puts them in the same category as those sentenced to a short term of imprisonment. This closes a loophole in the Sentencing Amendment Act 2007, which created home detention as a sentence in its own right, but failed to amend the Juries Act. This meant those who had served or were serving a sentence of home detention could still sit on a jury panel. People convicted of a custodial sentence of more than 3 years are barred for life from sitting on a jury.
• Ensures that offenders who are serving a sentence of less than three months home detention be excused from jury service, or allowed to defer their attendance, until after their sentence is complete.
• Gives registrars the power to grant a person permanent excusal from serving on a jury on the grounds of age, disability, or chronic health problems.

Mr Power said the bill follows measures rolled out last year to make life easier for jurors.

Those measures expanded jury districts from 30 kilometres to 45 kilometres from a courthouse so people are less likely to be frequently summonsed for jury service, and allowed jurors to defer their jury service till a more convenient time within 12 months of the original summons date.

“Jury deferrals are being well used by the public, with a steady increase in the number of deferrals being granted each month, as well an increase in the number of jurors attending jury service.

“There’s also been a reduction in the number of excusals granted, although the success of the deferrals will not be fully evident until early next year.”

The Cabinet paper is available here.

ENDS

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