A FIVE-year campaign by the New South Wales Bar Association was highlighted this month by the High Court Chief Justice’s speech on the value of civil juries.
For an association that has had a long tradition of promoting civil juries and supporting citizens’ “public duty” to be involved in the legal process, Chief Justice James Gleeson’s speech came as a welcome voice on the matter, NSW Bar Association president Michael Slattery told Lawyers Weekly.
This week, the Association was due to put forward a submission to the Australian Law Reform Commission on efforts to expand civil juries, he said.
“The New South Wales Bar has been campaigning very heavily for an increase in jurors pay, conditions and we’re about to ask for some [experts] to go into jury rooms in New South Wales and tell the Law Reform Commission what’s wrong with them so the government will improve them,” Slattery said.
“Making sure that citizens’ capacity to sit within the judicial system as easily as possible is very important, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
The New South Wales Bar Association has a strong policy of favouring the retention and increased use of civil juries, said Slattery.
Justice Gleeson’s speech highlights an increasingly well publicised issue, one that he is passionate about, Slattery said. “I think that what the Chief Justice is saying is a wonderful celebration of the importance of the institution of the civil as well as the criminal jury.”
Juries are an important point of contact between the community and the judicial system, said Slattery, a point he notes that Justice Gleeson makes in his speech. He compared the “accidental difference” between the United States and Australia on the use of civil juries, noting that in the US it is a more widely accepted part of the legal system.
“To most members of the community the idea that a jury will decide something in the United States, be it in a civil action for damages is extremely well known. And it’s a fundamental part of the American legal system.
“In America they are constitutionally entrenched. In the constitutional debate that followed the Declaration of Independence and the founding of the United States, the seventh amendment to the US Constitution is an amendment that says that all citizens shall be entitled to trial by civil jury in a case of damages worth more than $20,” Slattery said.
Terming the use of civil juries “the ultimate share”, Slattery said it was “the ultimate form of power sharing”.
“It’s a huge submission by judges to the community to say: ‘we will guide you, we will help you, we will make sure that your decision making is as error free and perfect as we can make it, but at the end of the day you have the power, not us’.”