Jurors failing to make court

By Edward Gay

A $1000 fine may have to be imposed for anyone avoiding jury service, a judge says.

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

After the postponement, Ministry of Justice staff hit the phones to remind potential jurors of their obligations, and enough arrived the following day to allow the trial to go ahead.

However, the delay meant another trial had to be adjourned and may not go ahead for some months.

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

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

Juror no-shows are not confined to Whangarei and Rotorua. Figures from the Ministry of Justice show that out of the 219,963 people summonsed for jury service across New Zealand last year, nearly 45,000 - about one in five - failed to show up.

Judge Harvey said part of the problem with his trial was that it coincided with school holidays and the shortened Anzac Day week.

But, he said, people needed to know it was possible to get their jury service deferred to a more suitable time.

"The jury system is fundamental to our system of justice. Without people prepared to come along to court and sit on a jury, our justice system would be in trouble. In fact, it would collapse."

It was important for cases to be decided by a panel made up of 12 men and women who represented all walks of life in the community.

Judges could impose a $1000 fine on people who refused 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."

Figures obtained from the Ministry of Justice show the penalty has been imposed only once - in 2007.

Judge Harvey said he believed many potential jurors didn't realise the important role they played in the justice system.

A Ministry of Education spokesman could not say whether there were plans to introduce anything about the court system into the school curriculum.


- Northern Advocate

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