Many links in the jury ser­vice chain

Pilbara News - - News - ■ Glenn Cord­ing­ley

The last thing most peo­ple would ex­pect to re­ceive in the mail is a sum­mons to jury ser­vice.

But once your num­ber comes up, that piece of pa­per sig­nals the start of a demo­cratic process that will in­evitably lead the in­di­vid­ual con­cerned to a court­room some­where in WA.

The ul­ti­mate aim is to form a jury of 12 to 18 peo­ple to de­cide whether an ac­cused per­son in a crim­i­nal trial is guilty or not guilty.

More peo­ple than the amount re­quired are called upon to carry out their civic re­spon­si­bil­ity and con­trib­ute to a fair and just le­gal sys­tem.

At­tor­ney-Gen­eral Michael Mischin said the sys­tem pre­served com­mu­nity in­volve­ment and re­spon­si­bil­ity in the ad­min­is­tra­tion of crim­i­nal jus­tice.

“Mem­bers of the public bring their com­mon sense, ex­pe­ri­ence of life and their un­der­stand­ing of the hu­man ex­pe­ri­ence, into the court­room,” he said.

“It has been a long-stand­ing fea­ture of our crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem that, when­ever prac­ti­ca­ble, jurors — as rep­re­sen­ta­tives of our com­mu­nity — be the judges of the facts in se­ri­ous crim­i­nal cases, and de­cide whether the pros­e­cu­tion, rep­re­sent­ing the State, has proved its case against an ac­cused to the req­ui­site stan­dard of proof.”

Mr Mischin said it was im­por­tant the pool of jurors be as broad as pos­si­ble in or­der to be “truly rep­re­sen­ta­tive” of the com­mu­nity as pos­si­ble.

Co-or­di­nated by the Sher­iff of WA, there are sev­eral links to the jury ser­vice chain that re­quire co­op­er­a­tion from em­ploy­ers, em­ploy­ees, the State Gov­ern­ment and the com­mu­nity.

One com­mon myth is that in­di­vid­u­als are sin­gled out for at­ten­tion de­lib­er­ately but the se­lec­tion for­mula is sim­ply a com­puter ran­domly pick­ing names from the elec­toral roll.

Can­di­dates are no­ti­fied by mail sev­eral weeks be­fore the trial starts to ar­range per­sonal mat­ters.

Em­ploy­ers are re­quired by law to re­lease staff for jury duty and pay them nor­mal wages/salaries or face penal­ties from $10,000 to $50,000.

Once widely re­garded as an in­con­ve­nience and rel­a­tively easy to avoid, new leg­is­la­tion was in­tro­duced in 2014 to tighten up the sys­tem.

The cat­e­gories of peo­ple pre­vi­ously au­to­mat­i­cally ex­empt from jury duty were slashed and the age limit for jurors was raised from 65 years to 75 years.

Un­der the changes, prospec­tive jurors could de­fer for a set pe­riod and $800 fines were in­tro­duced for fail­ing to show-up for jury duty af­ter sum­mons.

Lawyers and some cat­e­gories of par­lia­men­tary of­fi­cers main­tain their cur­rent ex­emp­tion from jury ser­vice.

But any­one be­liev­ing they can­not form part of a jury duty can speak to the pre­sid­ing judge out­lin­ing their con­cerns.

The judge would then make a de­ci­sion on whether that per­son was el­i­gi­ble or not.

Mr Mischin said the new Bar­nett Gov­ern­ment laws were in re­sponse to the de­clin­ing range of peo­ple be­ing avail­able to be se­lected to serve on ju­ries.

“There was a per­cep­tion that most jurors were the un­em­ployed, stay-at-homes and re­tired,” he said.

“The laws have re­sulted in a sig­nif­i­cant in­crease in the num­ber of peo­ple ful­fill­ing their obli­ga­tion to serve on ju­ries, re­sult­ing in a more bal­anced com­po­si­tion of ju­ries and in a restora­tion of their sta­tus as a re­spected and key fea­ture of the ad­min­is­tra­tion of jus­tice.”

Once in court on the al­lo­cated day, po­ten­tial jurors are shown a video to ex­plain their role.

Charges against an ac­cused per­son are read out loud in the court­room and if he/she pleads not guilty, 12 or more peo­ple are cho­sen through a bal­lot­ing process.

To pro­tect pri­vacy, peo­ple are re­ferred to by their al­lo­cated num­ber in­stead of be­ing named.

Dur­ing the se­lec­tion process, the pros­e­cu­tion of de­fence lawyer can chal­lenge an in­di­vid­ual’s se­lec­tion for the jury with­out ex­pla­na­tion.

Should this hap­pen, that per­son must leave the jury box and re­turn to their seat in the court­room.

WA Chief Jus­tice Wayne Martin summed up the im­por­tance of jury duty for peo­ple from all walks of life.

“Com­mu­nity par­tic­i­pa­tion in the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem through the jury process has long been a vi­tal fea­ture of our sys­tem of jus­tice,” he said.

“We ap­pre­ci­ate that jury ser­vice disrupts daily life and may be in­con­ve­nient, how­ever, its im­por­tance to the jus­tice sys­tem can­not be over­stated.”

The Kar­ratha Court House, where ju­ries serve on Dis­trict Court cases.

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