Distressed woman calls for jury change

By Amy McGillivray of the Bay of Plenty Times -
Photo / APN
Photo / APN

A Bay of Plenty woman is calling for changes to the jury selection process, saying she was left traumatised after hearing details of a sexual abuse case that brought back horrific memories for her.

The woman, who by law cannot be identified, says she was in a Tauranga courtroom when a man was accused of sexually abusing a young girl. She had to listen to details of the prosecution's case and says hearing those details brought back memories of her own sexual abuse ordeal eight years earlier, which culminated in her abuser being convicted and jailed for five years.

On learning the case was a sexual abuse trial she asked to be excused due to her past experience. "They said that I could ask the judge to be excused as soon as I was in the room with the judge."

The woman expected she would be able to ask the judge to be excused immediately but she had to wait until after the case had been explained in court before she was excused. "It was absolutely traumatic. I don't think I've ever felt that way in my life. I was just trying my hardest not to cry."

She said the ordeal had affected her more than she imagined it could and she has since found herself breaking down at work.

"I am traumatised and I think definitely have a fear of going back to any court after being summonsed in a case so similar to my own."

The experience had left her determined that changes needed to be made, she said. "I don't like talking about it but it's something that makes me really angry and I'm thinking about it happening to other people and it doesn't sit right with me."

The woman said the history of potential jurors should be checked before they are called and they should have the opportunity to be excused as soon as they are aware of the nature of the case.

She was also uncomfortable about the list of jurors names being read out in front of the accused. "It (the jury selection) could all be done behind closed doors."

However, a Ministry of Justice spokesperson said the correct process had been followed.

Potential jury members do hear the charges made against the accused before the final jurors are selected, he said.

"It's a valuable public service and we acknowledge it can be distressing but we try and make it as easy as possible ... we can put people in touch with qualified professional counsellors for free," the spokesman said.

It was impossible to vet every one of the 300,000 people called up for jury duty each year, he said and having the charges read out before potential jurors was an important part of the justice system. "I think it's important for justice to be done that the whole process is transparent - and that includes jury selection."

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