Jury system overhaul to be considered by working group

New body will examine potential widening of jury pool and laws against internet research

The Working Group on Juries has been established by the Civil Law Reform Division of the Department of Justice to consider the findings of a five-year-old Law Reform Commission report on jury service.

The Working Group on Juries has been established by the Civil Law Reform Division of the Department of Justice to consider the findings of a five-year-old Law Reform Commission report on jury service.

 

The Government has established a working group to report on a potential drastic overhaul of the jury system, including the expansion of the categories of people obliged to serve as jurors.

The Working Group on Juries will also examine whether jurors should be paid expenses and whether there should be laws against juries conducting independent research on the internet.

Tougher laws to prevent jury tampering or intimidation will also be considered by the group, as will specific laws against jurors disclosing the details of their deliberations after a trial.

The group has been established by the Civil Law Reform Division of the Department of Justice to consider the findings of a five-year-old Law Reform Commission (LRC) report on jury service.

If it decides to implement the LRC recommendations , it will be the biggest overhaul of the jury system since 1976, when women were permitted to serve.

In 2013, the commission issued 56 recommendations on a range of topics concerning the jury system. Among the most radical was the recommendation to do away with the effective blanket ban on civil servants and certain professionals, which would significantly widen the jury pool.

Under the current system, a wide range of people, including doctors, nurses, teachers and public servants, are excused “as of right” from jury service. This has led to concerns that juries are not truly representative of society.

Right of excusal

The LRC recommended the blanket excusal for members of these professions should replaced with a general right of excusal for good cause.

It suggested every adult citizen of the United Kingdom who is registered to vote in Dáil elections should be qualified to sit on a jury here, as should every non-Irish citizen who is registered to vote in local elections and has been resident in the State for at least five years. This alone would add about 200,000 people to the pool.

The LRC report also called for a new offence to punish jurors who wilfully disclose information about jury deliberations or who conduct independent research on the case online, a problem which has arisen in several recent trials.

This type of misconduct currently comes under contempt-of-court rules but there is a lack of clarity surrounding exactly what is and is not allowed.

One of the report’s recommendations has already been implemented – the provision of three extra jurors for especially lengthy trials. New rules to allow for substitute jurors – in case some drop out during the case – were introduced in advance of the lengthy trials involving Anglo Irish Bank officials.

On the subject of complex trials, such as those involving banking offences, the LRC recommended that the court be able to appoint an assessor, or adviser, to assist the court and help juries understand evidence.

It also recommended jurors be paid a flat rate to cover basic expenses but decided against recommending a salary for jurors as it believed jury service is a “civic duty” like voting.

A form of tax credit should also be considered to alleviate the financial burden that jury service puts on small businesses and self-employed persons, the LRC said.

The department’s working group includes representatives from several criminal justice agencies including the Courts Service, the Department of Justice and the Garda.

Its members have been asked to undertake an examination of “how people are selected for jury service and related matters”, a department spokesman said.

It held its first meeting last month and is due to meet again in the coming weeks.