JURIES IN New South Wales could be predominantly made up of the retired and unemployed if the Federal Government goes ahead with proposals to remove a provision from federal awards that makes it compulsory for employers to compensate for the service.
The NSW Law Society has condemned the proposed changes to legislation, a potential result of the Federal Government’s widely criticised industrial relations reforms, which remove the provision from federal awards. Law Society president John McIntyre said the result of such a change could be a significant increase of people seeking to avoid jury service because of the financial strain.
Under the proposed changes, the Government will eliminate the current jury service provision from federal awards. This would see employees being forced to negotiate with their employers to be compensated for the gap between the jury allowance paid and their usual earnings.
“If the employer decides against compensating their employee for pay lost they will only be entitled to the State’s allowance, currently at $81.60 per day. Many people will find they simply cannot afford to sit on a jury,” said McIntyre.
“If more people seek exemption from jury service because of substantial financial disadvantage the jury system is going to be under considerable strain. The State Government will be pressured to increase the allowance paid to jurors, or otherwise we may be left with a shortage of potential jurors or a pool of jurors made up of the retired and unemployed,” McIntyre said.
Speaking to Lawyers Weekly, McIntyre said the NSW Law Society saw a potential danger in the proposals, including the number of people to serve on juries being likely to decline, “and the number of people who seek to be excused from jury service on the basis of financial hardship likely to increase”.
The federal and state governments should be in dialogue, said McIntyre, and should consider the effects of these proposals on the jury system. Although the proposed changes have not yet been confirmed, McIntyre said the Law Society was now operating on the basis of a press release by the Federal Government. “It may not have absolutely diabolical ramifications,” he confirmed. “We are flagging the consequences if they remove the provision and do nothing else.”
McIntyre said the proposals were a classic example of how governments make legislative proposals without considering the unintended consequences. “Jury service is a civic duty, and corporate citizens also have a part to play. People should be free to serve on a jury without fear of financial hardship,” he said.
“Clearly, the Federal Government has not looked carefully at this particular provision or the impact it may have on the State’s jury systems,” he said. “There needs to be some dialogue to determine the impact.”