Jury told to forget quake prejudices

DAVID CLARKSON
Last updated 12:54 20/01/2014

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Christchurch jurors have been told they must set aside any earthquake prejudices and ill-feelings as they consider the case of a woman charged with making false insurance claims.

The trial of the 41-year-old property developer on 21 charges began with the jury selection before Judge Stephen O'Driscoll in the Christchurch District Court today.

Eighteen jury panel members had discussions with the judge during the selection process and were excused from serving on the jury.

The lawyers challenged several others who had had discussions with the judge but had not been excused.

After selection, the jury was sent away until Wednesday when opening addresses will be heard. In the meantime, the judge will hear legal arguments.

The woman faces eight charges of forgery and eight of using forged documents, two of altering documents with intent to deceive, two of using altered documents with intent to deceive, and one of dishonestly using a document. She has denied all charges.

The charges relate to invoices and quotes from tradesmen and their companies, photographs, and tenancy agreements.

The woman has name suppression at present.

Judge O'Driscoll, who normally sits in Dunedin, began by telling the jury that the trial, originally scheduled to finish this week, was likely to continue into next week.

He told the jury panel: "I am not from Christchurch and I have no real perspective or concept of how the earthquakes have affected you. I suspect that all of you have been affected in some way, directly or indirectly.

"You are required, if selected for jury service, to deal with this matter fairly and dispassionately because you will be sitting as judges in this case, and judges must always deal with cases fairly and dispassionately.

"Some of you may have had claims or disputes against EQC, but that is not going to disqualify you from sitting on the jury."

He asked jury members to tell him if they had ongoing disputes and claims with EQC if they felt they would not be able to deal with the case dispassionately.

"You may have feelings about people who make claims for insurance purposes or claims against EQC in cases where claims should not be made," Judge O'Driscoll said.

"The accused is entitled to a presumption of innocence, and sitting on a jury should not be an opportunity for you to express your own personal feelings either in support or against any person or organisation," the judge said.

The trial will resume with the jury in place from 10am on Wednesday.

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