JURY DUTY REFORMS
The Hon. CHRISTINE ROBERTSON:
My question is addressed to the Attorney General. Will the Attorney General update the House on upcoming reforms to jury duty in New South Wales?
The Hon. JOHN HATZISTERGOS:
I thank the Hon. Christine Robertson for her question on this important issue. Trial by jury lies at the centre of the criminal procedure of the common law world, dating back to the Magna Carta. Jury trials ensure fairness to individual defendants and the community as a whole by making sure that the legal process is tempered with the judgement and compassion of the general public. Jury trials resist the potential for the court to be treated as a venue for technical debating points, because juries ground the trial process in the reasonableness, the decency, and the thoughtfulness of the citizens of New South Wales. That is why I am pleased to announce that the New South Wales Government will today introduce legislation to amend the Jury Act to broaden the jury pool and make serving on a jury easier for working people.
These reforms are the second round of amendments implementing the recommendations of the New South Wales Law Reform Commission in its 2007 report entitled "Jury Selection". As the Jury Act currently stands, a vast number of otherwise capable people are automatically ineligible for jury service because of their occupation as a lawyer or their position in a law enforcement agency. The Government will change this by reducing the number of categories of automatic exemption, delivering a more diverse pool of potential jurors that better reflects the make-up of the community.
The rationale for exemptions from jury service is that certain members of society should not be called away from their crucial day-to-day roles for the period of a trial. In keeping with that rationale, exemptions will remain for police officers, medical staff, emergency services workers, and lawyers in the public criminal justice system. But the days of broad definitions and general exemptions are gone. The Government is aware that people sometimes have differing views about taking time off work for jury service. With regard to income security, the Government has increased the daily allowance for trials that run for more than 10 days from $100 to $225 for jurors who are employed. And to further protect employees, the Government will stamp out unfair treatment of workers who serve on a jury. Employers will be prevented from forcing their staff to take leave or work outside hours to accommodate jury service. In addition, corporations who sack or unfairly discriminate against employees in relation to jury service could be fined up to $22,000, while individual employers face fines of up to $5,500.
Given the reach of these reforms, the Government has undertaken extensive consultation across a range of affected industries and organisations, including key medical bodies such as the Australian Medical Association, emergency services stakeholders such as the New South Wales Rural Fire Service, religious groups including the Anglican Diocese of Sydney and the New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies, and others including the New South Wales Law Society, New South Wales Bar Association and Carers New South Wales. I thank all these stakeholders for their assistance and acknowledge their contribution to the laws the Government will introduce today.
After question time today I will seek leave to table a Government response to the Law Reform Commission's Report No. 114 regarding blind or deaf jurors. The response supports a number of the recommendations. However, we do not support the Law Reform Commission recommendation that jurors who need assistance from a stenographer or interpreter in the jury room be allowed such assistance. I will ask the Sheriff to make every endeavour to assist blind and deaf people to serve, but ultimately the jury exists to assist the administration of justice and protect the rights of the accused. We are committed to the integrity of jury trials across New South Wales, and with these legislative changes the Government will continue to build on that commitment.