Judge wants to use $1000 penalty to deter jury-duty dodgers

By Edward Gay

The penalty has been imposed only once - in 2007. Photo / File
The penalty has been imposed only once - in 2007. Photo / File

A $1,000 fine may have to be imposed for anyone avoiding jury service, a judge says.

Whangarei District Court judge Duncan Harvey had to postpone a trial last week because not enough prospective jury members turned up.

Afterwards, Ministry of Justice staff hit the phones to remind people called for jury duty of their obligations, and enough arrived next day to allow the trial to go ahead.

However, the delay meant another trial was adjourned and may not go ahead for months.

A similar problem happened last week when not enough potential jurors turned up to the Rotorua High Court.

The cost of postponing a trial can run into the thousands of dollars in lawyers' fees, witness costs and court time wasted. It also places added stress on witnesses.

Figures from the Ministry of Justice show that out of the 219,963 people summonsed for jury service last year, nearly 45,000 - about one in five - failed to show up.

Judge Harvey said it was important that cases were decided by a panel made up of people from all walks of life.

Judges can impose a $1,000 fine on people who refuse to turn up to court for jury service, but Judge Harvey said that was a last resort.

"No judge would like the prospect of imposing a penalty, but unless attendance rates improve, that may be a possibility."

The penalty has been imposed only once - in 2007.

Judge Harvey was asked if jurors' remuneration could play a part on non-attendance. He said he could not comment.

Ministry of Justice general manager of courts Tony Fisher said there were no plans to look at the remuneration rate of $31 per half-day.

But he said jurors had their bus and train trips, or their parking fees, paid for. They also got morning tea, but got meals only when deciding verdict.

What jurors get

• For each half-day: $31

• If at court between 6pm and 9pm: $89

• If at court after 9pm: $127

• Rates increase if jurors serve more than six days.


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