Call of duty in the name of justice

Northern Supreme Court registrar Chris Nason is responsible for ensuring a jury panel is available every two weeks. Picture: Phillip Biggs
Northern Supreme Court registrar Chris Nason is responsible for ensuring a jury panel is available every two weeks. Picture: Phillip Biggs

The trial of Stephen Roy Standage is into its closing stages and jurors involved have been sitting for almost four months – making it one of Tasmania’s longest-running criminal trials.

COREY MARTIN takes a look at the ins and outs of jury duty.

"WOULD you trust your fate to 12 people who couldn't figure out how to get out of jury duty"' - that's the old one-liner that gets bandied around, but is receiving a summons that bad?

Every person who is enrolled on the state electoral roll is qualified and liable to serve as a juror and can be called at any time.

To service the Launceston Supreme Court's jury needs about 350 people are summonsed to carry out jury duty every fortnight.

It is Northern registrar Chris Nason's role as the deputy sheriff to ensure that there is a jury panel available every two weeks.

Mr Nason said Launceston jurors were selected at random from a pool of about 6000 people on the roll.

"We aim to have about 70 people here for each trial in Launceston and we have to send out about 350 summonses," Mr Nason said.

"We end up deferring somewhere in the vicinity of about 230 to 240 and we have some absentees simply because in most cases the information is out of date and those people have not received their summons.

"If you are called for jury service in its current format this year, your period of service is for around two weeks - obviously that can change if you have got a trial that may go beyond two weeks.

"The Standage trial is a rare event. But that information is provided to the jurors when the empanelment process is happening."

Mr Nason said people received a summons about two weeks before the trial was expected to start.

The process sees potential jurors go through a roll call in the assembly room and a card with their name on it then goes into a lottery box.

"The judge's associate will draw a name for them to come forward and take a seat," he said.

"Prosecution and defence lawyers have an opportunity to stand aside or challenge jurors.

"Once we have been through the process, when we have 12 jurors that have not been stood aside or challenged, the court will then provide those 12 jurors with more information in relation to the trial."

Mr Nason said selected jurors were given specifics about the nature of the charge, names of witnesses due to give evidence and the expected length of the trial.

He said the judge then made inquires about whether there was any reason for the 12 selected to consider themselves ineligible to be on the jury.

Reasons could include knowing something about the case or a witness or a juror believing they could not be impartial dealing with the evidence.

In those instances, the judge my see it appropriate to excuse them.

Under the Juries Act 2003, anyone involved in the justice system is automatically exempt from jury duty along with those who struggle to understand or speak English or have a disability.

People who have been convicted of a crime and sentenced to three or more years imprisonment or detention are also disqualified.

Mr Nason said many people filed a statutory declaration to seek a deferral because of illness, work or family commitments.

Failure to attend in accordance with your summons could result in a substantial fine or imprisonment.

"The court goes to great lengths to ensure that jurors understand what's before them," he said.

"Effectively if they don't, they are encouraged to ask questions - as part of their deliberations they are told that if they have any questions at all, they should advise the court and the judge works through that with them."

Tasmanian jurors are compensated for loss of income, childcare, parking and travelling expenses and receive a $10.95 lunch allowance.

Jurors who are employed can be paid up to $224.39 per day, providing they supply evidence from their employer that they have lost salary while at court.

Unemployed jurors are paid $40 for each of the first three full days they attend and $50 thereafter.

Court sits between 10am and 4pm, Monday to Friday.


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