New Approach To Jury Selection

New Approach To Jury Selection

Western Australia Attorney General Christian Porter

Juries To Become More Reflective Of The WA Community

Victor P Taffa

Substantial changes to Western Australia’s Jury System have been announced by the State Government to ensure juries are more reflective of the wider community.

Attorney General Christian Porter said the changes are the most significant to the Juries Act 1957 and included providing a deferral option to jurors; introducing a flat $800 infringement for failing to obey a summons; imposing serious fines on employers who don’t allow an employee to attend jury service; and significantly narrowing the types of people exempt from jury duty.

“The amendments remove entirely the current categories of persons who are excused as of right from serving as jurors.” Mr. Porter said.

“This means old-fashioned rules will no longer provide automatic exemptions from jury duty to people who are engaged in”:

  • Emergency Services;
  • Health and Health Related Fields;
  • Those in Occupations Associated with Religious Practice;
  • Persons Who Care for Others;
  • Pregnant Women;
  • Ex-Parliamentarians;
  • Ex-Judicial Officers.

“The age category for those able to perform jury duty will also be lifted from 65 to 75 years.”

“These are all people with important community experiences who should be able to contribute to our criminal justice system through jury service.” Mr. Porter said.

“In 2009-10, there were 77,209 people summoned for jury duty with a huge 49,165 people being exempt or excused – that’s an exemption rate of nearly 64 %.”

“It’s almost impossible to get a good representation of the community if 64 % of people summoned are excused or exempt.” Mr. Porter said.

The only Persons who will be automatically exempt under the new legislation are:

  • Serving Police Officers;
  • Serving Judicial Officers;
  • Serving Members of Parliament;
  • Lawyers Employed by the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Corruption and Crime Commission and the Legal Aid Commission;
  • Some other Statutory Office Holders while in Office.

The Attorney General said under the current Act, judges, magistrates and a range of statutory office holders are permanently exempt from jury service and members of Parliament and employees of the department that administers the justice system are exempt for five years after they leave that job.

“While I consider it appropriate to exempt these people from jury service while they hold these positions, once they leave those jobs I consider, like any other member of the community, they can and should offer significant value to the jury process and shouldn’t have any exemption that doesn’t apply to average citizens.” the Attorney General said.

Mr. Porter said the changes also meant lawyers would no longer be automatically exempt from jury service unless they predominantly dealt with criminal matters, such as lawyers working for the Director of Public Prosecutions. All other lawyers would need to seek an excusal via the Court Summonsing Officer on the grounds that some of their work is criminal in nature or if they considered there was any other relevant ground for excusal.

Another critical change in the Bill will be to exempt any person with more than one criminal conviction or three or more offences under the Road Traffic Act 1974 in the past five years. Previously, only those sentenced to a term of jail exceeding two years were exempt from jury duty.

The State Government will also increase the system’s flexibility to allow a person to defer jury service for up to six months.

“Most people accept the importance of performing their civic duty and serving on a jury, however sometimes urgent personal matters arise and they are unable to respond to a particular summons.” the Attorney General said.

“The deferral option will allow people to defer their duty for up to six months provided they are granted a deferral by the Court Summonsing Officer or the Judge.”

The Bill will also reform the way people who fail to obey a summons for jury duty and who are not excused are prosecuted.  In 2009-10, 8,137 or 10 % of persons summoned to jury duty that were not exempt or excused failed to attend.

“Currently there is a cumbersome and lengthy process involving a summons, appearance in court and a fine at the discretion of the court for whatever amount the court deems appropriate.” Mr. Porter said.

“This will be replaced by a simple and standard $800 infringement which can be issued by the Summonsing Officer or the Court.  Jury service is an integral part of the criminal justice system and the fine for ignoring this important civic duty should reflect that.”

Importantly the new Bill will impose serious fines of up to $10,000 for an individual employer or $50,000 for a company who refuse to allow an employee to attend jury duty or who terminates their employment because they attended jury duty.

The final major amendment to the Act will also provide the prosecution in a criminal trial with the same number of peremptory challenges as the accused and will amend s104 of the Criminal Procedure Act to reduce the number of challenges to three per accused for both the prosecutor and the accused.

Under the current Act the prosecutor is restricted to five challenges irrespective of the number of accused, whereas Counsel for the accused has five challenges per accused.

The Attorney General said the raft of changes being introduced by the Government would strengthen the criminal justice system by ensuring juries better reflect the WA community. The Bill will be introduced to State Parliament this month.