Monday 15 April 2013: The Law Reform Commission’s Report on Jury Service will be launched by Mr Justice Adrian Hardiman, judge of the Supreme Court, at the Commission’s offices at 6pm this evening.
The Report forms part of the Commission’s Third Programme of Law Reform and examines a number of topics concerning jury service including: whether qualification for jury service should be extended beyond Irish citizens; the categories of persons who are ineligible for jury service; persons who are excusable as of right from jury service; deferral of jury service; disqualification from jury service arising from criminal convictions; jury tampering; juror misconduct, including independent investigations such as internet searches; juror expenses; lengthy and complex jury trials; and empirical research on the jury process. The Report contains 56 recommendations and includes a draft Juries Bill intended to implement these.
Concerns about the representative nature of juries, and about juror behaviour
The Report takes account of concerns that the existing law and processes for jury selection do not involve selection of juries from panels that are representative of the community. For example, the current jury panels compiled under the Juries Act 1976 are limited to Irish citizens and exclude long term residents including EU citizens; by contrast, Irish citizens resident in England are qualified for jury service there. The 1976 Act also allows a wide group of persons, such as doctors, nurses, teachers and public servants, to be excused “as of right” from jury service in Ireland.
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. There is also concern that the general right to inspect jury panel lists runs the risk that jury members are open to intimidation or jury tampering. The Report also examines reforms that might be required to deal with lengthy or complex criminal trials.
Specific recommendations in the Report
Among the recommendations in the Report are:
· jury panels should be based on the electoral registers for Dáil, local and European elections, which would allow not only Irish citizens but also EU citizens and other long-term residents (the Report recommends a minimum residency requirement of at least 5 years) to be selected for jury service. This would add about 200,000 persons to those qualified for jury service.
· jurors should be able to read, write, speak and understand English to the extent that they can carry out their functions and they should be reminded of this when summoned for jury service.
· the existing blanket excusal from jury service “as of right” for many professionals and public servants should be repealed, and be replaced by an individualised excusal “for good cause.”
· jurors should be allowed deferral of service for up to 12 months to facilitate those who have good reasons to decline jury service when they are initially summoned for jury service.
· a person with a disability should be eligible for jury service unless, taking account of permissible and practicable assisted decision-making supports and accommodation that are consistent with the right to a trial in due course of law, the disability would mean that he or she could not perform the duties of a juror. The Report also recommends that specific research should be conducted on this matter. This research should examine developing codes, standards and practical experience from other jurisdictions, and should then determine whether it would be feasible to apply these in the jury system in Ireland.
· the number of objections to jurors without the need to give any reason (peremptory challenges), which is currently 7 for both the prosecution and the defence, should be retained; and pre-trial questionnaires to jurors should continue to be prohibited.
· a modest daily flat rate payment should be paid to jurors to cover their travel and subsistence costs; and the government should consider what other means could be used to alleviate the financial burden that jury service involves for small businesses and self-employed persons, including the use of tax credits and insurance.
· the Report recommends that, to address jury tampering, the right to inspect the jury panel should be limited to being examined by legal advisers 4 days before the start of a trial; and that the law on jury tampering should be set out in a single comprehensive offence.
· the Report recommends that juries be given a specific warning not to access the internet during a trial and that such inappropriate enquiries be made a specific offence
· the Report recommends that a court should be allowed to empanel up to 3 additional jurors where the judge estimates that the trial will extend beyond three months.
· The Report also recommends that research should be carried out on matters such as jury representativeness, juror comprehension, juror management and juror capacity and competence. This research should be subject to appropriate confidentiality safeguards to ensure that jury deliberations are not revealed.
For further information / interview with a Commission representative contact:
Winifred McCourt, McCourt CFL T: 087-2446004
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 180 documents (Working Papers, Consultation Papers and Reports) containing reform proposals, available at www.lawreform.ie. The Report will be available on the Commission’s website from the afternoon of publication on 15th April 2013.