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Call for judges to sit in with juries

Call for judges to sit in with juries

Juries could be better aided by judges sitting in with them during deliberations, Western Australia's Chief Justice Wayne Martin said at a Rotary district conference on the weekend.The Chief…

Juries could be better aided by judges sitting in with them during deliberations, Western Australia's Chief Justice Wayne Martin said at a Rotary district conference on the weekend.

The Chief Justice indicated his suggestion could help jurors grapple with complex legal issues when making decisions.

"One might think it extremely odd that at the end of the trial, when the most important decision comes to be made, the judge ... is entirely excluded from the decision-making process," Justice Martin said.

"A system whereby the judge retires with the jury to assist and guide them in their deliberations would not seem at all strange to anyone from continental Europe.

"The role of the jury should be supported and reinforced, not undermined, and consideration might be given in that context to supporting the jury by giving them greater assistance through the office of the judge."

The Western Australian Government is said to be considering the proposal, after recent public dissatisfaction about the way the criminal justice and jury system worked.

Chief Justice Martin said his suggestion was not linked to any particular case, despite a public rally last week over the jury acquittal of a man charged with assaulting police officer Matthew Butcher. During a fight outside a tavern, 29-year old Butcher was hit from behind and has been left partially paralysed.

The media reporting of the trial led to distorted perceptions about the efficiency of the state's judiciary, said Chief Justice Martin. Of the defendants charged with an offence in WA, only 1 per cent is acquitted, he said, with a quarter of that per cent acquitted by a jury.

He added that a judge could add further resilience and strength to the jury process by providing the jury with impartial, experienced and legally trained assistance during deliberations.

- Sarah Sharples

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