Time to fix the jury service

There is a good article and excellent discussion on the jury service issue over on Kiwiblog. The system is broken it seems, with a paltry 15 of those called to service actually showing.

There are many that complained that the jury service fee is pathetic, especially for those who run their own businesses and cannot afford to take time out. Many also noted that  business and white middle class people (readers of Kiwiblog all) are generally not favoured by defense lawyers and get preempted.

Spector proposed some changes:

  1. Get rid of Jury pre-vetting. The jury you get is the 12 people that turn up. If one of the lawyers doesn’t like the look of them then tough.
  2. Extend court hours. Give people the option of jury duty at night and weekends so it lessens the disruption to their employment.
  3. Create two tiers of trial. Major trials (which should be the minority) are given three weeks to run. Everything else is given a maximum of four days. If the two lawyers can’t make their case in the time given then tough.

I’m for the court hours one, but the third would be unfair – imagine if you were the defendant. The first is more problematic, but there has to be a case for making it harder to biff people off juries without serious cause.

Mike added

  • We should be able to list what time period we are available to serve (1 wk, 2wk, 3wk) and be allocated to a court case accordingly.

I’m a fan of that – say if you are between jobs then it’s a great time to stick your hand up and do your civic duty.

Others called for banks giving mortgage holidays to those called, employers purchasing or providing jury selection insurance to ensure staff keep getting paid. I think the private sector has an opportunity with the mortgages and insurance.

So let’s sum up, and add some other ideas. Clearly the answer is a proper commission to study this, but lets make sure that some of the people on the commission are willing to be daring, and that they understand the power of all of the new tools available to us all.

  1. Clean up the system of identifying and asking potential jurors to show. Move it almost entirely online, and have people confirm their receipt of the summons electronically, and for them to give a reply. Deal with all requests to be excused online.
  2. If a juror is excused then allow them to commit to a future time which is doable  – months or even years ahead (e.g. in the case of small children). Follow up with then at that time and place them on to a jury.
  3. On the days when juries are called place people into a virtual queue, giving them notice of when exactly they will be required through a series of texts and emails. Physical appearance in the court should only be required less than 45 minutes before selection.
  4. Extend court hours to allow for afternoon, weekend and evening sessions
  5. Defence and prosecution lawyers can only pre-empt jurors for cause.
  6. Someone, even Government, offers small employers Jury Duty Insurance – covering the cost to the business when s critical employee is away for service.
  7. Potential jurors can self-select and identify themselves, increasing their odds of being selected. This is particularly relevant for people between jobs, with older children or recently retired where they have available time. (I would have liked to do jury service last year, would find it extremely difficult now)
  8. Allow jurors to research cases, case law, and anything at all online – though not to engage in conversation. The legal system would see this as a tremendous challenge to their way of operating, but the reality is that we acquire knowledge and make decisions with all the tools at our disposal. What is wrong, for example, on researching the drugs trade in NZ when serving on a dealing case?
  9. Create jury panels  – juries of 15 people (to allow for sickness) that sit for 6 months and hear a multitude of smaller cases, generally in front of the same judges. There would be a higher standard of empaneling for these, and pre-empting individual jurors for certain reasons would still be allowed. However the jury would soon become professional and work as a team with the judge.
  10. Consider virtual juries – we have the technology almost in place for jurors to be not required in the court room. Video conferencing will ensure that the jurors are awake and paying attention, whether they are home or perhaps in a regional centre.

These are some starter ideas only – as I mentioned it is time for a professional group to take a look. I for one would be happy to help that group.

About Lance Wiggs

@lancewiggs
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7 Responses to Time to fix the jury service

  1. Nic says:

    Reminds me of when I was called. I went, ready to do my duty. I was told that because I use a wheelchair, I was not needed. Apparently, or so the clerk told me, the jury stand was not wheelchair friendly, there was no accessible toilets in the jury room, and the entrance/exit for the jury, which is different than the main entrance, did not have a lift.

    Hmmm. 20% of kiwis have a disability. “Jury of your peers” but there’s automatic exclusion of a large segment of the population. Not good.

    I did lodge a complaint with the courthouse, but the response I got was that the clerk was wrong, I could have served. Now, who do I believe???

    yeah, there’s something wrong with the jury service.

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    • Rob says:

      I though public buildings were required to be fully accessible. I am surprised that in PC NZ 2010 that there is a public building that isn’t.

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      • Nic says:

        Rob, you are correct – under the NZ Building Code, buildings have to meet certain accessibility criteria. In fact, New Zealand was the first country in the world to adopt accessibility requirements in the building code, all the way back in 1973. So in theory, new construction since then, or buildings that had major renovation/reconstruction, should meet a minimum of accessibility.

        But…

        The speed limit on Highway 1 is 100 along most of it. How many people drive faster than that?

        Seriously, there are legal requirements, and while many people respect those, not everyone does – not even government or crown entities.

        As for “PC”, I could say some very rude things, but I’ll refrain as this is Lance’s blog. If you think accessibility is about political correctness, you are sorely mistaken.

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        • Rob says:

          I wasn’t referring to disabled access as PC, but as an essential need. What I was meaning is that NZ has regulations for everything to a point where PC has gone mad, and it is cheaper and and easier to get stuff made offshore and imported, than get it done in NZ, due to high compliance costs. The problem is that there are no resources to police these regulations.
          But in this case they have missed out on the essential needs, of providing disabled access.

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  2. NZ_AH says:

    Funny – I wrote an email to Simon Power today on this subject …

    I think the changes you have made to jury service are good, however having recently undertaken jury service myself, what needs a closer look is the efficiency of the process.

    Hundreds of people a week wait around for hours and hours only to be sent home and asked to come back again the next day (and all getting paid!). Why not investigate the possibility of an electronic ballot method, where jury members do not need to attend. I will certianly attempt any method possible not to go through that same process again.

    Also, Im sure your aware, but I was surprised when I undertook jury service on the complete unbalanced reflection of society amongst potential jury members. Those that attended were mainly retirees or those from a lower social-economic demographic. It appeared to me that those that were excused, represent the vast majoirty of our society.

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  3. Ian Boag says:

    A lot of the procedures are farcical.

    It’s 2010 and in the jury room the only technology available is one whiteboard and scraps of notepaper. Admittedly there are evidence transcripts to share which I guess is an improvement on last century.

    The last jury I was on was made easier by the suggestion (from someone who had been on a jury before) that we should all write our names on a card in front of us. A simple idea and a good one – we all just didn’t have a clue.

    Here in Palmerston North, if you park in the building across the road, you pay, keep the receipt and claim reimbursement. It seems to be too hard to have court-issued parking chits. It was where all court people park. Go figure.

    Most people going on a jury for the first time have no idea at all about how it works. Some general guidelines and FAQs would not be too hard. The clerk of the court could volunteer hints about procedural stuff based on what other juries have done.

    One could go on. Much of the whole court thing is firmly mired in the ways of last century. There’s probably some reasons why direct examination is the way that testimony gets elucidated but it can be hugely sloooooow.

    We had one somewhat overweight juror with a bad leg and there wasn’t even a lift for her to use. She had to struggle up and down two flights of stairs. Go figure some more.

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  4. sarah says:

    i went today to service the system is so basis againist young white women every one of us got challened how can you say you have a fair selection of the community when you discriminate against people like me its BULLOCKS !

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