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Our jury system needs urgently fixing

By Michael Bosscher - posted Thursday, 15 March 2007

One of the cornerstones of our justice system - the jury - is in urgent need of an overhaul because too many juries now are not fully representative of the population.

Instead of the centuries-old concept of 12 impartial citizens representing the community at large, we now have a system where growing numbers of people are seeking excusal from jury duty, for a host of reasons. Work, childcare and financial issues are the most cited reasons for jurors seeking excusal.

Ideally a jury should be a representative cross section of the community - representing gender, culture, socio economic groups and age. However increasing jury excusal rates mean juries now are often made up of retirees and the unemployed.


An accused person has the right to be judged by a cross section of their peers and when the balance is lost, it undermines the chances for the accused to be properly judged.

The issue has been highlighted by reported remarks by Nigel Stobbs, law lecturer from the Queensland University of Technology, who is researching the jury crisis at the National College of Australia in Canberra.

Mr Stobbs found that last year, 53.9 per cent of people were excused from jury service - a 2 per cent increase on three years ago. Of the 23,255 jurors who eventually attended court, a further 15 per cent changed their mind and were excused.

The most common excuses for jury excusal were work, childcare and financial implications.

However I strongly disagree with a suggestion by Mr Stobbs that juries be replaced with a panel of judges for trials on complex fraud issues.

A jury decides their verdict on the facts presented to them, and leaves questions of law to the judge. It is imperative that we have people using their general common sense in deciding a verdict, not leaving it to a panel of judges who are trained to see things differently and are hardened by hearing the same excuses day after day.


Judges are there to decide penalty and rule on questions of law, but they should not replace the role of juries.

However I support the view there is an urgent need to overhaul payments for jury service. At present jurors are paid $32 for every day they turn up, $97 for each day of a trial up to 20 days, and $129 for every subsequent day.

There is a distinct problem now about juries being representative of the population. More and more people are seeking excusal from jury duty and the financial aspect seems to play a big part for many of them. An accused should be judged by a representative cross section of their peers - not a group of people with nothing better to do.

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About the Author

Michael Bosscher is managing partner of Brisbane-based national criminal defence law firm Ryan & Bosscher Lawyers.

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