Leapcards and VR training among suggested ideas for jury reform
Some trials place ‘impermissible burden’ on jurors says Chief Justice
Chief Justice Mr Justice Frank Clarke. File photograph: Mary Browne
Virtual reality training, free Leapcards and the payment of expenses are among the measures which could be introduced to reform the jury system, according to judges and senior legal figures.
The payment of expenses to jurors to encourage jury service would not be financially ruinous to the State and is something judges believe is “extremely important”, said Dr Mark Coen, lecturer at law in UCD.
Dr Coen was one of four academics to carry out research into the role of the judiciary and the jury system in criminal trials which was launched on Tuesday night.
Researchers interviewed 22 judges and 11 barristers about a wide range of topics including how to improve the numbers turning up for jury service. Currently only about one third of people called for jury service show up.
The judges interviewed told researchers they believed jury service is a civic duty and jurors should not be paid for it.
“But they also felt jurors shouldn’t be out of pocket for it either,” Dr Coen said. “They felt that very keenly.”
Some judges had “very practical ideas” such as providing jurors with leap cards to cover their travel to and from court, he said.
Launching the report, Chief Justice Frank Clarke said trials are getting longer. This applies not just to complex financial trials such as the Anglo Irish Bank cases but murder and rape offences in the Central Criminal Court, he said.
“Requiring jurors to be there for four or six or eight weeks as opposed to a few days in the past is a much greater burden on people who are meant to be doing their day job as well.”
He said there is a perception that many juries are not as representative as they should be because people “in particular categories” can avoid jury service.
Some categories of people would find it extremely hard to sit on a jury for eight weeks, he said.
“We can’t have inclusivity if we have trials that place an impermissible burden on jurors. We will continue to place an impermissible burden on jurors if we don’t work out better ways of running jury trials,” Chief Justice Clarke said.
Angela Denning, the newly appointed chief executive of the Courts Service, suggested prospective jurors could be allowed experience what a courtroom is like using virtual reality goggles. She said going into a courtroom for the first time can be “terrifying” and her staff have already requested such goggles for training purposes.
Chief Justice Clarke also said there is an increasing need for training for judges; not necessarily in the law but in “judicial skills”. He said the present training budget is very small but that the judiciary is currently making a case to Government for additional funds.
He said there is an assumption that “judges arrive perfectly formed in the world. I think we increasingly realise that is not so”.
The Chief Justice recalled that he was sworn in as a judge on the Court of Criminal Appeal on a Thursday and expected to decide the following Monday “if an experienced judge had made a mess of a criminal trial”.