Ensuring that jurors understand the sometimes lengthy instructions or directions that judges give is one of the challenges addressed in a consultation paper on jury directions released by the NSW Law Reform Commission ('LRC') today.
Jury directions are the mainly oral instructions that judges give to juries on the evidence presented and the relevant law, to assist them in reaching their verdict. The directions are often long, complex and framed in legal terminology. Their complexity can lead to inadvertent errors by trial judges and provide grounds for unnecessary appeals against conviction.
'Jury directions will fail in their purpose if they are not delivered in a form which a jury made up of members of the general community can understand and apply', said Chairperson of the LRC, The Hon James Wood AO QC.
'The purpose of the review', Mr Wood said, 'is to identify problem areas in the way that jurors have traditionally been instructed, and to identify a format that is more relevant for the current generation of jurors. If so, we might be able to avoid the experience that so many judges have encountered of jurors' eyes glazing over when they give directions.'
The consultation paper considers the instructions that judges currently give and poses the question whether they are necessary for a fair trial and, if so, whether they can be presented to jurors in a more effective way.
Consideration is also given to the ways in which judges’ oral directions can be supplemented by other materials, such as computer technology, written summaries, and flow charts setting out pathways to a verdict.
'The use of such material more closely approximates the way in which modern jurors are accustomed to absorbing, retaining and using information', said Mr Wood.
The LRC is inviting submissions from the public on all aspects of jury directions, including the ways in which they are delivered.
Copies of the consultation paper can be obtained from the LRC's website:
Media comment: The Hon James Wood AO QC, (02) 8061 9270.