Judge questions jury trials after meth case collapse

IAN STEWARD
Last updated 14:34 03/11/2012

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The collapse of a major methamphetamine trial has led to a call for a high-level review of how drugs cases are dealt with and their effects on stressed jurors.

Judge David Wilson called on the Law Commission and the Chief District Court judge to review procedures after an eight-week multi-accused drug trial in the Auckland District Court was abandoned on Thursday.

The trial fell over after the jury was reduced to nine members. Identities of the three men charged are protected by suppression orders.

The first juror was excused because of work commitments after the trial had begun.

The second juror was discharged for breaching instructions and conducting his own research on the trial.

It is understood the man compiled a 35-page dossier of research and questions on drugs and firearms which he brought to court.

The trial continued with 10 jurors for three weeks until Thursday when one juror failed to appear for service.

In a minute released, Judge Wilson said the court registry received advice the man was at a medical facility.

A medical certificate was provided that said the man was "acutely unwell" and was unable to participate in the trial for two weeks.

Judge Wilson called for a review of the Crimes Act provision that stipulated such trials can not be heard by a judge alone.

"The particular circumstances of this case demonstrate that the cases are vulnerable where long trials are scheduled and the jury commitments to those trials are extensive.

"It may be appropriate for authorities to look at the issue whether in methamphetamine trials, given that they are normally based on electronic surveillance and very detailed, it might be appropriate to treat them in a separate category from other major crime".

He said the trials were "always complex" and "always intensely detailed".

"It is not unreasonable to infer the detailed nature of the evidence in this case might well have caused the acute unwellness of one juror so the juror was unable to continue."

Judge Wilson said he noted that an entire day of reading text messages and playing intercepted phone calls was "a very taxing experience for the jury".

"These aspects of impact on juries have to be considered in the future, given that an eight week trial is a substantial commitment of court, counsel and other resources and the the result of an aborted trial can only be considerable."

One defence lawyer estimated the cost of the trial as "in the tens of thousands".

Judge Wilson said he was forwarding his minute to the Law Commission and the Chief Judge of the District Court.

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Barrister Graeme Newell, who represented one of the accused, said the problem could be addressed by better vetting of prospective jurors before they reached the selection stage.

- The Press

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