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:
- 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.
- Extend court hours. Give people the option of jury duty at night and weekends so it lessens the disruption to their employment.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Extend court hours to allow for afternoon, weekend and evening sessions
- Defence and prosecution lawyers can only pre-empt jurors for cause.
- Someone, even Government, offers small employers Jury Duty Insurance – covering the cost to the business when s critical employee is away for service.
- 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)
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.