It seems that New Zealanders have an aversion to performing jury service. Avoiding it is something of a national pastime.
According to A call to duty, in 2009 199,760 of the 321,832 people summoned were excused from jury duty while 67,938 simply failed to show up. This left just 54,134 people who actually performed their civic duty. A 17 per cent hit rate is pretty poor by anyone's standards.
I did jury service at an Auckland court once. My boss at the time had offered to write a letter advising I was vital to the organisation's smooth functioning. I declined his offer since my role in the marketing department of one of the country's largest employers could hardly be described as being of life-and-death importance - and, besides, I understood the need for people to perform their civic duty. As it happened the jury was formed before my name was called so I toddled off back to work after only a few hours. It may have been an underwhelming experience but my civic duty was done.
As for those people who decide to ignore their summons to attend jury service, there's a compelling view that they're no great loss to the justice system. These people clearly lack the sufficient brainpower, organisational skills and diligence to file an application to be excused. Who'd want people with such poor life skills and flagrant disregard for the law on a jury anyway?
If they're not able to complete some straightforward paperwork in a timely manner then the serious task of contemplating the guilt of a defendant is certain to be beyond them. Or perhaps these people are smarter than they appear. Despite fines of up to $1000 potentially applying to such no shows, these penalties are seldom levied. It makes you wonder why the rest of us even bother responding.
People who are excused from jury service may cite childcare responsibilities or work commitments as reasons. It's tempting to believe then that our most productive citizens - perhaps those juggling families with demanding jobs - are least likely to serve on a jury. Yet surely these are precisely the people who'd be assets to the justice process. Some opponents to the current system claim that today's juries are dominated by unemployed and retired people rather than a representative cross-section of society.
Reforms intended to improve jury service hit rates were introduced in 2010. As explained in Skip jury service? It's just got hard, if you're unable to attend a particular jury service you'll have to nominate a convenient time within the next 12 months. This flexibility is expected to make jury service more readily achievable for even those with especially busy schedules.
Yet low jury service fees ($62 per day rising to $80 for the sixth and subsequent days), the sheer inconvenience to daily routines and the potential trauma that may be involved in serving on a case with especially unpalatable details all serve to dampen the public appetite for responding positively to a summons. And until the hefty fines are routinely utilised as penalties for not responding there's no tangible deterrent for those who just don't show up.
What's your view of jury duty? Have you ever served on a jury or do you always ask to be excused? Does the current system need changing? What improvements could be made?