Thursday, 18 June 2015
I have been asked to raise this matter by a prosecuting counsel who works for the State in criminal cases. It relates to jury service and the difficulties in some areas where the required number of jurors is not available. What has caused concern are two recent cases which took a great deal of time to run; the Ian Bailey and Graham Dwyer cases. In one case, the jurors sat for more than 60 full days.
Someone from as far away as Castletownbere could be summoned to serve on a jury in Cork city but while the Courts Service ensures that those who serve on juries receive meals while they are hearing a case, there is no provision for simple things like travel expenses, car parking or overnight accommodation. We need to look at that. Another area in which there is no provision relates to the self-employed. While employers are obliged to pay an employee who is called to serve on a jury, there is no provision for the self-employed. How can they run their businesses if they are required to spend two weeks in court in the absence of any provision? It is something we need to look at when cases are getting more complicated. As we saw recently, they run for longer now. We must provide for some out-of-pocket expenses for those who make themselves available to serve on juries when called. It is a matter than needs to be reviewed.
On behalf of the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, I thank Senator Colm Burke for raising this matter. The Minister regrets she is unable to be present for this discussion.
Jurors are an essential part of the administration of justice in our country. As provided for in the Constitution, a key principle of a fair judicial system is the right to trial by jury.The Juries Act 1976, as amended, sets out the current law on jury selection and jury service, including issues such as eligibility and the selection and service of jurors.
As the Senator is aware and has outlined, there is no provision in the Juries Act 1976 for the payment of expenses to jurors or their employers from State funds. When policy underlying the Act was being formulated consideration was given to the matter of expenses, but it was decided at that time that expenses should not be paid as performance of jury service was considered to be a basic civic duty which arose relatively infrequently as far as the individual is concerned. That policy has been retained by successive Governments.
Section 29 of the 1976 Act, however, makes provision for employees to be paid by their employers, as the Senator pointed out, while on jury service. Under section 9 of the 1976 Act, a county registrar may excuse any person whom he or she has summoned as a juror from attendance during the whole, or any part, of the sittings in question if that person shows to the county registrar's satisfaction that there is good reason he or she should be so excused - for example, if a person is self-employed and works alone and where his or her attendance at jury service may mean he or she cannot earn a living, he or she may qualify for excusal from jury service. This is entirely a matter for the county registrar concerned and the Minister for Justice and Equality has no function in this regard.
Under current legislative provisions, jurors are not reimbursed for their time or travel expenses and employers are obliged to continue to pay employees while they serve on a jury. The Courts Service, however, provide meals and other refreshments to jurors when serving on a jury.
The Law Reform Commission report on jury service which was published in April 2013 contains 56 recommendations covering a broad range of issues relating to jury service. On the issue we are debating today, chapter 9 of this report covers recommendations on jury compensation and expenses, including an introduction of a modest flat rate daily payment to cover the cost of transport and other incidentals involved in jury service, and these issues are being fully considered by the Department. Some of the recommendations in the Law Reform Commission's report have cost implications and these recommendations require careful evaluation in the current economic climate. They are currently being considered in the context of a juries Bill which is included in the Government's legislation programme and will be brought forward in due course.
The Government has already taken steps in regard to the recommendation concerning additional jurors for lengthy criminal trials. Part 5 of the Courts and Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2013 provides for the appointment of up to three additional jurors to deal with lengthy criminal trials. The issue of jury selection is a matter for the Courts Service. The Courts Service has informed the Minister that it is engaged in a process of making the administration of jury service summonses and notices more streamlined and centralised.
The Department and Government are currently giving consideration to the Law Reform Commission report on jury service. Chapter 9 relates to the issues which have been raised by Senator Burke. They will be considered by the Government and considered one way or the other in the context of a juries Bill.
I will have to ask the Minister for Justice and Equality to revert to Senator Burke but I am happy to do so. The Bill is listed in the Government's current legislative programme and will be brought forward in due course. I want to reassure Senator Burke and the Seanad that the issues he has raised are being fully considered in the context of the development of the Bill.