Jurors who failed to answer their summonses caused a delay to the start of a High Court murder retrial in Timaru last week.
Following the discharge of some jurors, only 19 summonsed jurors were left in court - leaving Justice Rachel Dunningham no option but to discharge them until the next morning.
"We simply don't have sufficient numbers for the Crown and defence to fulfil their right to challenge jurors," she told the court.
The following day a jury was successfully convened and the trial commenced.
Crown solicitor Andrew McRae said that during his years in practice he had never seen a jury fail to be convened as a consequence of too few jurors being available.
"When issues arise such as that which occurred last week, the inability to convene a jury causes serious inconvenience to victims and witnesses, can have significant cost ramifications, but more importantly, can mean a person charged with a crime is denied their access to justice [albeit temporarily]," he said.
McRae said 26 jurors was a satisfactory number to work from - with 20 being the base number needed.
"Twenty-six is sufficient to take into account that someone within the jury is going to know someone connected with the case."
McRae said while it was disappointing the panel was depleted last week, the importance of jury service cannot be overstated.
"It is a fundamental tenet of our legal system for serious criminal trials. The public's participation in the trial process is essential to ensure that community norms and values are taken into account in judicial proceedings.
"Although it is no doubt a significant burden on those called, those that have served have all considered it a worthwhile and informative duty to their community."
The maximum penalty for failure to attend is a fine not exceeding $1000 and it is set in the Juries Act 1981 section 32.
The decision to fine someone for non-attendance is made by the presiding judge or judicial officer. It is not a decision for Ministry of Justice or court staff.
District Courts general manager Tony Fisher said the judge's decision to impose a fine was very rare - with about four people being fined in the last seven years.
Statistics supplied by the Ministry of Justice showed 30,935 people failed to turn up for jury service last year (without their service being excused, deferred, cancelled or declared ineligible). In 2011 that number was at 40,993.
In discharging jurors last week, Justice Dunningham thanked those who had shown up and apologised for the inconvenience caused.
"In short you have been let down by your fellow summoned jurors. It's imperative you make yourself available as it wastes the court's time."
- The Timaru Herald