Juries                

 

Juries are an important part of our justice system and serving on a jury is seen as an important duty of citizenship. This importance is reflected in the fact that the Law Reform Commission has looked into aspects of the law relating to juries many times.

The law governing the selection of people to serve on juries and the management of juries may be found on the NSW Legislation website: Jury Act 1977 (NSW).

The areas of the law relating to juries that have been examined by the Law Reform Commission are:

Jury directions in criminal trials

There is growing concern about the ways in which judges communicate information to juries in criminal trials, including the increasing number and complexity of the directions, warning and comments that a judge must give to a jury in the course of a criminal trial.

You can keep up to date with the Commission's work in this area by viewing our current projects.

Jury service

People are currently selected to serve on juries in accordance with the Jury Act 1977 (NSW). The Act covers qualifications and grounds for being excused from service. The Attorney General has asked the Commission to look into the operation and effectiveness of this system.

You can view the Commission's report on jury selection in the reports section of our website.

Role of juries in sentencing

At present, in New South Wales, a jury has no role in determining the penalty for a person once that person has been found guilty. The Commission was asked to look at a suggestion made by the Chief Justice that judges, following a finding of guilt by a jury, should be able to consult with juries about sentencing.

You can view the Commission's Report on the role of juries in sentencing in the reports section of our website.

The Chief Justice's speech may be viewed at the Supreme Court's website.

Majority verdicts by juries

In New South Wales a jury can only convict or acquit an accused person if they are unanimous, that is all 12 members of the jury agree. The Commission was asked to investigate whether it should be possible for a majority of jurors, for example, 10 or 11, to agree. The Commission recommended that jury verdicts should continue to be unanimous. However, the Government has announced that it will allow a person to be convicted or acquitted if 11 jurors agree.

You can view the Commission's report on majority verdicts in the reports section of our website.

Trial by jury

The Commission has made various recommendations to strengthen the institution of trial by jury in criminal proceedings, including recommendations to:

  • ensure that juries continue to be representative;
  • protect jurors;
  • make the jury's task easier; and
  • reduce bias and prejudice among jurors.

The Commission completed its final report on this topic ( Report 48) in 1986. You can find links to all of the Commission's publications in this review in the overview of the Commission's project on criminal procedure.

Conscientious objection to jury service

In 1984, the Commission recommended that a person who objects to serving on a jury on the grounds of conscientious belief (whether on religious grounds or not) should be automatically excused from serving on a jury. You can read about the reasons for this recommendation in Report 42.

Whether deaf or blind people can be jurors

In New South Wales, deaf or blind people are currently not allowed to serve as jurors. The Commission has investigated the question of whether deaf or blind people should be able to serve on juries and has considered such questions as:

  • the rights of deaf or blind people to take part in one of the duties of citizenship; and
  • the rights of an accused persons to a fair trial, including a proper assessment of the evidence by members of the jury.

The Commission completed its final report on this topic ( Report 114), in 2006, and has also published the results of a study conducted by Macquarie University ( Research Report 14).