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Media Release - Too many people avoiding jury duty? (12 December 2006)

Should more people be required to do jury duty? In an issues paper released today the NSW Law Reform Commission canvases the possible removal of many of the grounds on which people can claim ineligibility or exemption from jury duty.

Currently those who are ineligible to serve include lawyers, judicial officers, MPs, police and Correctional Services officers. A larger group also have the right to be excused if they wish, including clergy, dentists, pharmacists, medical practitioners, emergency services personnel, people over the age of 70, pregnant women and people with carer responsibilities or the responsibility for any children under the age of 18.

'Jury duty is an important civic duty. Reducing the categories of exemption would spread the burden of jury service more evenly across the community' said Chairperson of the Law Reform Commission, the Hon James Wood. 'It would also ensure that juries are representative of the community as a whole and that the justice system remains in touch with and is accountable to the broader community.'

In addition to the possible reduction of the categories of ineligibility and exemption, the Commission is also considering:

  • allowing certain people to be excused for good reason, particularly where jury duty causes personal, financial or other hardship to a potential juror or to others; and
  • allowing people to defer jury duty so that potential jurors can nominate a time that is more convenient to them.

'Versions of such schemes have been implemented successfully in other jurisdictions, including Victoria, England and New York' said Mr Wood. 'There would appear to be no reason why they should not work in NSW.'

The Commission is also considering the conditions of jury service, including the adequacy of the jury allowance and the protection of jurors' jobs. This follows recent media reports of jurors being dismissed or disadvantaged in their employment as the result of jury duty and one District Court jury being discharged because the inadequate jury allowance caused one juror financial hardship.

The Commission is seeking submissions on all aspects of the operation and effectiveness of the system for selecting jurors. Copies of the issues paper may be obtained from the Commission: (02) 9228 8230.

Media comment

The Hon James Wood AO QC, Chairperson, NSW Law Reform Commission

(02) 9228 8230