What is it about jury service in NSW?

By skepticlawyer

…Enquiring minds would like to know.

Month on month, the most popular search string for this blog is a variant on ‘getting out of jury service in nsw’, ‘excuses to get out of jury service’, ‘jury service nsw’, ‘avoiding jury service nsw.’ No other state or jurisdiction gets a look in. No Queensland or Victoria or WA, no England or Scotland, despite the fact that up here we need fifteen jurors in a criminal trial ‘solemn procedure’–what we call trial on indictment–and twelve in many civil trials.

Clearly there is something funny going on in NSW.

Most of the time, the searchers land on two earlier posts of Legal Eagle’s, this short one, and this much longer version, which mentions the fact that NSW is one jurisdiction that has made avoiding jury service much harder, while still continuing to pay derisory sums to jurors and, it would appear, not covering their transport costs. This is not something that happens in Queensland (as I noted in the comments), nor in Scotland. If Scotland treated its jurors like shit we would have serious problems, simply because we need so many of them. When I practised in England, however, I did notice some of the characteristics attributed to NSW, along with a similar efflorescence of lame evasions. Legal Eagle noted that

When I was a young and green blogger with only my own small site, one of the posts which got the biggest hits was entitled “Excuses for getting out of jury duty“. It must be a disappointment for Googlers who are looking for convincing excuses – the post actually links to a set of pathetic excuses offered to the NSW Juries Commissioner, including “My budgie is sick.” How one can have the cheek to write an excuse like that, I’ll never know, but desperation leads people to do strange things.

I’ve had two family members on juries in the past year – one on an extended matter, one on a matter which lasted a few days. Apparently they’ve made it much more difficult for people to get out of jury duty because they were concerned that the only people who sat on juries were those who had nothing better to do. All I can say as a result of watching my family members’ experience is –No bloody wonder they have such a hard time getting people to sit on juries.

I’m curious as to whether there have been any improvements since then. The search strings would indicate not, but miracles do happen: maybe someone in the NSW courts hierarchy has got the message that derisory pay and general lack of compassion makes for people who are so brazen that they will run with the budgie excuse (or worse, perhaps).

This is a shame, because jury service is a wonderful corrective to all the hyperbole about the legal system floating around out there (in the media and elsewhere), and in my experience jurors take their jobs seriously and respect the process of which they are a part. Of course they’re not infallible, but the system is pretty good, and it stops lawyers and the legal system from forgetting that we (and it) are there not for ourselves (or for the institution), but for the public good.

I’ve never served on a jury (although I’ve seen many in action), and the funniest moment in my non-service came about when I was called while I was a Judge’s Associate in Rockhampton. This involved me wandering down the corridor to the Registrar and pointing out that I was about as automatically disqualified as it is possible to get…

That aside, though, if you can find it in your heart (and timetable) to serve, please do so. It’s good for everyone involved. And for those administering the system (in NSW, and perhaps elsewhere), treat jurors with respect and you will get panels that are genuinely representative–ie, that include young people and professionals, not just pensioners, the unemployed and stay-at-home mums.

24 Comments

  1. Joe Lewis
    Posted June 4, 2011 at 10:59 pm | Permalink

    In the words of one Jacques Derrida, the lack of diversity on the jury is another signal that ‘justice transcends law’.

  2. kvd
    Posted June 5, 2011 at 9:28 am | Permalink

    From LE’s post yesterday, it seems it’s all down to a dumb of pigeons

  3. Posted June 5, 2011 at 9:49 am | Permalink

    I guess there are no jury-duty addictions as in The Wasps. No real difficulty then for juries of 501.

    Treat those on jury duty nadly enough, and there’ll be am excuse for politicians to abolish it – what with mandatory sentencing, the Ballieu government wanting to bring in double-jeopardy, and the money to be made from private prisons (with lots of interest in promoting recidivism rather than reformation), we’ll probably be staring a guilt by accusation soon enough.

  4. Posted June 5, 2011 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

    [email protected] Actually, evidence suggests that private prisons have a lower recidivism rate.

  5. Mel
    Posted June 5, 2011 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

    [email protected]

    “Actually, evidence suggests that private prisons have a lower recidivism rate.”

    I love the smell of confirmation bias on a Sunday afternoon.

    The report Lorenzo cites positively drips saliva in anticipation of prison privatisation- which is no doubt a honey-trap frequented by many a well-pennied piper in search of sweet toothed doers.

    The last para in L’s link gives the game away. To quote:

    “Despite these studies, others have noted no statistical difference between public and private inmates. For instance, Bales (2005) analyzed re-offense arrest and imprisonment rates during 1995 to 2001 for a large sample of adult men, women, and juvenile offenders and concluded that statistical evidence did not support policy that urged more privatization of prisons in Florida due to lower recidivism rates for private versus public released prisoners.”

    If you look at the above cited Bales study you’ll see that the miracle of lower private prison recidivism disappears once controls are put in place for the two vastly different prison populations.

    The production of social knowledge and the ideological context in which it is produced is enmeshed in the extant relations of power and production in a given society. Any sociologist worth reading understands this phenomenon. And we can thank Karl Marx more than anyone else for bringing this reality to our attention.

    Unwittingly, Lorenzo has provided a great example of how Marx ‘s writings continue to enlighten us.

  6. fxh
    Posted June 5, 2011 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

    only been called up twice – both times I was self employed and couldn’t afford to spend an unknown amount of time without income and losing contracts.

    So I did what anyone would do – I dressed smartly in a suit and tie and looked successful – I was challenged both times.

  7. AJ
    Posted June 5, 2011 at 7:48 pm | Permalink

    I got called up last year. I didn’t try to avoid it. After 5 years wasted getting a law degree, I was sort of curious to actually see the inside of a court room. Sadly, I never got that far. I was called in twice over the 2 weeks, but never even made it to the empanelling process.

    Next time I am probably just going to throw the letter away and pretend I didn’t get it.

  8. Posted June 6, 2011 at 7:12 am | Permalink

    I have been twice called for jury duty when I’d just moved interstate thus taking myself out of the jury pool just in time. Once I was called when I was a stay at home Mum, but was let off when I pointed out that I had a small child and no one else to care for him. I did offer to bring him with me (he was 2).

  9. Posted June 6, 2011 at 7:56 am | Permalink

    If you are a known supporter of jury nullification, you won’t be empanelled.

    Here’s one way to make yourself known.

    Hence the best way to spread awareness of jury nullification is to promote it as a means of avoiding jury service, and hope that some readers decide to use it for other purposes — until governments either change their attitude to jury nullification or pay jurors at a decent rate!

  10. RipleyP
    Posted June 6, 2011 at 11:59 am | Permalink

    I think that there is also a stigma of sorts associated with being on a jury. It is seen as an imposition on a person’s life and those who do sit are often seen as not successful or valuable people in society or people doing a community duty.

    I came across a demotivational poster recently that referred to the Justice system where you will be judged by 12 people too dumb to get out of jury duty.

    That’s not something to encourage participation and if it is the general opinion then paying more is only part of the issue. Some respect and recognition of jury service as a valid and important part of community life would be required. Though I wish the ad agency that gets to try sell that one some luck.

  11. Posted June 6, 2011 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

    [email protected], what a response – that must have hurt!

    [email protected], for a criminal prosecution, I would say that prosecutors would like an as unsophisticated jury as possible – to play into the high crime rate/talk back radio public fear mongering hype that the less sophisticated usually fall for.

  12. Jacques Chester
    Posted June 6, 2011 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

    You know that this post will make the searchers more likely to land at this blog, right? 😀

  13. Posted June 6, 2011 at 8:01 pm | Permalink

    Apologies about my lack of response to comments; I’m currently on holiday in Italy and far too interested in eating, drinking and generally having a good time to be very responsive….

  14. Jonathan D
    Posted June 7, 2011 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

    I haven’t got too much to compare it with, but I get the feeling that (some parts of?) NSW go through potential jurors at a very high rate. Among many other people, I was summonsed a year or so ago, and my wife is applying to be excused now (although she wouldn’t mind not needing to be, even despite the fact that we moved then became elegible to enrol outside the relevant district on the very date of the summons).

    Now perhaps some courts go through more jurors, but when I was there I felt there was a lot of waste – a large majority of us must have sat there for one morning (prhaps two), and then were discharged without even getting to the empanelling. I don’t know about anyone else, but I’d think it’d be better to keep me there for at least a week until I am on a case (or challenged or something), than simply release me and need to keep going through hundreds of potential jurors each week.

  15. Jonathan D
    Posted June 7, 2011 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

    (I also was compensated for travel – more than I actually spent on it to start with.)

  16. Posted June 7, 2011 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

    [email protected] The word ‘suggests’ is used when one means ‘does not prove’. In the original context, if the Bales study is correct, then that rather disproves the original contention, that private prisons will act to encourage recidivism. The some studies have found lower recidivism rates is still evidence, even if the Bales study raises questions about that.

    The link itself seems rather fair minded. For example,

    In short, more research needs to be conducted before a final verdict can be made.

    That it clearly regards privatisation as a reasonable option is not evidence of bias.

    As for interests affecting perspective, please: Adam Smith was there well before Marx and without all the pseudo-profound baggage. One of the sadder intellectual industries is congratulating Marx for ideas that were well in circulation before he added his Hegelian verbiage.

  17. Posted June 7, 2011 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

    Interesting, Jon D — that you were compensated for transport suggests that the system is getting better, which is a good thing.

  18. Mel
    Posted June 7, 2011 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

    “As for interests affecting perspective, please: Adam Smith was there well before Marx and without all the pseudo-profound baggage. ”

    Helvetius (1715-1771)

    “The prejudices of the great are the laws of the little people.”

    “If opinion rules the world, then, in the long run, it is the powerful who rule opinion”

    “Our ideas are the necessary consequences of the society in which we live.”

    Marx acknowledged Helvetius’ contribution to his thinking.

  19. Justice Preacher
    Posted June 17, 2011 at 8:54 am | Permalink

    The problem is people have lost confidence in the courts. Courts are all about the big end of town getting the best results because they can afford them. Juries don’t hear all the evidence, wealthier defendants get better lawyers and have evidence excluded. There is no search for the truth and justice is a game. The Sudoku jury found the soft underbelly of the judicial system – disinterest. This clip pretty well sums it up in NSW.

  20. Justice Preacher
    Posted June 17, 2011 at 9:20 am | Permalink

    Derryn Hinch, love him or hate him, has been an advocate for change in the jury system. Here he talks of a case where critical evidence was withheld from a jury, and the accused walks free. In a previous trialon the same facts for this accused,, the evidence was made available to the jury and he was convicted. The accused got a second trail after an appeal.

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  1. By Skepticlawyer » 2UE Interview about juries on December 18, 2011 at 5:43 pm

    […] June this year, SL wrote a post in which she noted: Month on month, the most popular search string for this blog is a variant on […]

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