No-show jurors go scot-free
Jury dodgers are continuing to avoid punishment for not turning up to court, with the Ministry of Justice revealing the last time a fine was imposed was six years ago.
And because of the inconvenience and cost of chasing jury dodgers, the situation is unlikely to change.
This week the Manawatu Standard revealed that of the 10,255 people summoned for jury duty in Palmerston North in 2012-13, 2118, or 21 per cent, did not show up without reason.
Nationwide, 38,976 people out of 178, 264 were unexplained no-shows. Of the 1.75 million people summoned since 2007, 285,889 have failed to show.
Under the law, jury dodgers can be fined up to $1000, but no fines have been imposed since August 2007.
Officials say issuing fines is a judicial decision and it would be undesirable to clog up the courts when the most important consideration is getting trials started.
Trials are rarely held up because of a lack of potential jurors.
Judges are unaware of who has not shown up because jurors initially report to a registrar, and the court gets only a shortlist of those present.
However, Auckland engineering consultant James McAllister felt the wrath of former Palmerston North judge Nevin Dawson last month when he refused to take the juror's oath at a trial in Auckland, then later changed his mind and said he could serve.
Judge Dawson sentenced him to 10 days' jail for contempt of court, which was reduced to a $750 fine on appeal this week.
University of Auckland law professor Bill Hodge noted the difference in the way McAllister was treated compared with what would have happened if he had not shown up at all.
"You've got to have a little sympathy for this guy."
However, McAllister got it wrong in not asking to be excused, or seeking to delay his service, and faced the understandable anger of a judge who was forced to delay the trial's start by a day.
Prof Hodge said people who did not turn up were failing to exercise their civic duty, but the costs and time that would be involved in prosecuting were prohibitive.
"The district court would be spending all its time prosecuting people who don't turn up to the district court - which sounds foolish," he said.
"You're not a good citizen if you don't turn up."
Palmerston North lawyer Paul Murray said those called up should be given better incentives to serve - starting with a pay increase from the present level of $30 for each half day.
"If we didn't make it a hardship to participate, then we'd get better participation."
Ministry of Justice district courts general manager Tony Fisher said fining a jury dodger would require a summons for that person to appear before a judge. If they did not turn up, an arrest warrant would be issued.
He said it had been six years since a fine was issued, and "there would have been exceptional circumstances in that case". "This obviously takes up valuable court and police time so is rarely used."
Mr Fisher has said officials were "generally satisfied" with the jury system.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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