Victorian lawyers, judges and politicians could soon be expected to attend jury service along with the rest of the community.
Deputy premier and attorney-general, Rob Hulls, said the Victorian Government was preparing a discussion paper on broadening the jury pool, to be released before the end of the year.
“At the moment, a range of occupations are excluded from serving on juries, including judges, police officers, lawyers, bail justices, court reporters, office holders such as the auditor-general and ombudsman and members of parliament,” Hulls said.
“There is an argument that some of these professions could be considered eligible for jury duty to ensure our juries are as broadly representative as possible.”
The comments come on the eve of the release of the Victorian Law Reform Commission’s (VLRC) final report on jury directions.
Hulls said the VLRC’s report found that both judges and lawyers recognised the need for an overhaul of jury directions law.
“A jury’s understanding of the law applicable to the criminal case before them rests solely on the directions of the presiding trial judge,” he said.
“These directions are crucial for juries in reaching fair and just verdicts, but it’s clear that jury directions in Victoria are too complex and lengthy. Charges to juries can sometimes last days, and jurors are less likely to reach fair outcomes if they cannot follow judges’ directions.
“Having developed in a piecemeal fashion over time, the law governing jury directions now has too many technical requirements which judges must comply with, making the job of both the judges and the juries very difficult.”
The report includes 52 recommendations relating to jury directions, with the aim of reducing court delays and the number of appeals.
“Victims of crime can be further traumatised by court retrials and it is important we reduce court delays and appeals to reduce unnecessary hardship for victims,” said Hulls.
Some of the key recommendations included that the law concerning jury directions in criminal trials should be located in a single statute. It said legislation should be introduced over time and replace the common law, and it should contain revised versions of all existing Victorian statutory provisions. Legislation should clearly indicate those directions that are mandatory and those which are discretionary, and the trial judge must give a discretionary direction that has been requested by counsel for the accused unless satisfied that there is good reason not to do so, say the recommendations.
The legislation should also declare that the trial judge has an obligation to give the jury any direction that is necessary to ensure a fair trial, according to the recommendations.
Hulls said the VLRC recommendations would be considered as part of the Government’s review of Victoria’s principal criminal laws.