Monday 29th March 2010: The Law Reform Commission’s Consultation Paper on Jury Service will be launched by the Director of Public Prosecutions, James Hamilton, at the Commission’s offices at 6 pm this evening.
The Consultation Paper forms part of the Commission’s Third Programme of Law Reform 2008-2014, and involves an examination of jury service, in particular qualification, eligibility and selection processes, and related matters. This is the first wide-ranging analysis of jury service since the passing of the Juries Act 1976, which was largely based on recommendations for reform made in 1965.
Concerns about the representative nature of juries, and about juror behaviour
The Consultation Paper talks account of submissions received by the Commission leading up to the formulation of the Third Programme of Law Reform, and other concerns expressed publicly (including by the Director of Public Prosecutions), that the existing processes for jury selection do not result in the selection of juries that are representative of the community. For example:
- the Juries Act 1976 currently allows a wide group of professional persons and public servants to be excused as of right from jury service.
- the current jury panels are limited to Irish citizens and exclude long term residents, including EU citizens (by contrast, Irish citizens resident in England are eligible for jury service there)
Other concerns include:
- the extent to which the availability of wireless technology might allow jurors in the jury room to search online for information about an accused rather than limit their decision to the evidence presented
- whether the public availability of jury panel lists runs the risk that jury members are open to intimidation or jury tampering.
The main provisional recommendations in the Consultation Paper are:
- the existing blanket excusal from jury service of many professionals and public servants should be replaced by an individualised excusal “for good cause”
- jury panels should be based on the electoral registers for local and European elections, allowing not only Irish citizen but also EU citizens and long-term residents (of 5 years) to be selected for jury service
- jurors should be allowed deferral of service for up to 12 months
- no person should be prohibited from jury service on the basis of physical disability alone; that capacity be recognised as the only appropriate requirement for jury service; and that reasonable accommodation be put in place for hearing-and-visually impaired jurors to assist them in undertaking the duties of a juror
- fluency in English should be introduced as a requirement for all jurors
- persons convicted of serious criminal offences should continue to be disqualified for jury service, and this should be extended to those convicted of similar offences outside the State
- the Commission invites submissions as to whether persons who are awaiting trial on criminal charges should continue to be eligible for jury service
- the Commission questions whether the number of objections to jurors without the need to give any reason for both the prosecution and the defence should be reduced from the existing seven each
- the Commission invites submissions as to whether some expenses should be paid to jurors, especially self-employed jurors, to cover their direct costs
- the Courts Service should provide to jurors information explaining why jurors should not carry out independent investigations or internet searches about a case
- the Commission invites submissions as to whether the right to inspect the jury panel should be amended.
For further information / interview with the President, Mrs Justice Catherine McGuinness, or Director of Research Raymond Byrne, contact:
Eoin Quinn, Weber Shandwick FCC, T: 01-6760168, or M: 087 233 2191
Background Notes for Editors
The Law Reform Commission is an independent statutory body whose main role is to keep the law under review and to make proposals for reform. To date, the Commission has published over 150 documents (Consultation Papers and Reports) containing reform proposals, available at www.lawreform.ie. A large majority (about 70%) of these proposals have led on to reforming legislation. The Consultation Paper will be available on the Commission’s website on the afternoon of the launch, 29th March 2010. A Consultation Paper contains the Commission’s provisional recommendations on an area, and submissions on it are welcome. Those who wish make submissions are requested to do so in writing by post to the Commission or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org by 31 May 2010.