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Trial by Jury: Recent Developments

Trial by Jury: Recent Developments

Advice on legislation or legal policy issues contained in this paper is provided for use in parliamentary debate and for related parliamentary purposes. This paper is not professional legal opinion.
Briefing Paper No. 4/2005 by Rowena Johns
Historical development of the jury system in New South Wales (pages 3-8):
This chapter summarises key events in the development of the jury system in New South Wales, from the establishment of the colony in 1788 to the present day. Trial by jury of 12 civilians became the standard in criminal cases in 1839 in the Supreme Court and Quarter Sessions (the predecessor of the District Court). Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, eligibility for jury service broadened with the abolition of property and gender requirements. However, there has been a reduction over time in the use of juries in non-criminal cases.

Types of courts and cases involving juries (pages 9-16):
A range of proceedings in New South Wales may be heard before a jury, including criminal trials, hearings to determine mental fitness to plead, civil trials, defamation cases, and coronial hearings. Trial by jury in criminal cases is available in the Supreme Court and District Court. Alternatively, the accused may choose trial by judge alone if certain conditions are met. In the Local Court, hearings are conducted before a Magistrate without a jury. The jurisdiction between the District Court and the Supreme Court in civil matters is basically determined by monetary value. Civil cases (except for defamation) are to be tried without a jury unless the court orders otherwise. Another issue considered in this chapter is the concept of disposing with juries in certain difficult cases, such as complex fraud trials.

Current jury procedures (pages 17-27):
The main provisions of the Jury Act 1977 are reviewed in this chapter, with particular attention to the eligibility requirements for jury service, the process of jury selection, peremptory challenges and challenges for cause, protection of juror anonymity, jury deliberations, discharging the jury, and payment of jurors. Also examined are offences committed by jurors or against jurors, pursuant to the Jury Act 1977 or the Crimes Act 1900.

Juror misconduct (pages 28-40):
Prominent cases in recent years, such as R v K (2003) 59 NSWLR 431 and R v Skaf (2004) 60 NSWLR 86, have illustrated the legal problems that can occur when jurors, despite judicial instructions to confine their deliberations to the evidence before them, undertake their own research, discuss the case with non-jurors, or visit a place connected with the offence. The increasing amount of legal information available on the internet is a cause for particular concern. The Jury Amendment Act 2004, commencing on 15 December 2004, prohibits jurors from making inquiries about the accused or issues in the trial, except in the proper exercise of juror functions. The Sheriff’s Office is specifically empowered by the new legislation to investigate jury irregularities.

Impact of prejudicial publicity on juries (pages 41-45):
Research undertaken by the University of New South Wales and the Law and Justice Foundation suggests that a relatively small proportion of verdicts in criminal trials are affected by media publicity. The case of R v Sheikh (2004) 144 A Crim R 124 revived debate on this issue when the Court of Criminal Appeal set aside the conviction and ruled that the trial judge’s directions to the jury could not remove the prejudice created by the media coverage. A Private Member’s Bill, introduced in December 2004 by the Shadow Attorney General, Andrew Tink MP, proposes that actual evidence of the influence of media reports upon jurors in criminal trials should be required before the Court of Criminal Appeal can find that there has been a miscarriage of justice.

Majority verdicts (pages 46-53):
A general overview of majority verdicts is presented in the first half of this chapter, including: arguments for and against majority verdicts; studies assessing whether their adoption in New South Wales would reduce the rate of hung juries; and the use of majority verdicts in other Australian States and Territories. The second half of the chapter examines recent developments. In September 2004, the Government issued a reference to the Law Reform Commission to report on whether the unanimity requirement in criminal trials should be preserved in New South Wales. The Shadow Attorney General, Andrew Tink MP, reaffirmed the Opposition’s support for majority verdicts by introducing a Private Member’s Bill in October 2004.

Proposal to involve jury in sentencing process (pages 54-58):
In January 2005, the Chief Justice of New South Wales, Hon James Spigelman AC, suggested that consideration be given to allowing consultation between judges and jurors on sentencing issues, after a verdict has been reached in a criminal trial. However, the actual sentence would remain a matter of judicial discretion. The Law Reform Commission is conducting an inquiry into the concept.