Legislation To Change Rules For Juries In Criminal Trials
Justice Minister, Phil Goff, announced today that legislation will be introduced making significant changes to improve
the functioning of jury trials.
He said the changes agreed to by Cabinet this week were the result of more than 10 years of research, analysis and
debate, including four Law Commission reports.
"It is now time to turn talk into action and to ensure our jury system meets the needs of the 21st century. Many changes
recommended by the Law Commission are changes to practice and are already being implemented. The decisions announced
today are those requiring legislative change.
"These changes will strengthen the jury system which is an essential part of a democratic society. The research shows
that juries as a whole work well, are democratic and impartial, are seen by most jurors as a positive experience and
ensure public validation of verdicts.
"Two of the most controversial changes are the introduction of majority (11:1) verdicts and the power in restricted
cases for the Court to order trial by judge alone.
"There are valid arguments for and against majority verdicts. I want the Select Committee to examine carefully the
evidence it receives in public submissions and to advise the House accordingly.
"The rising incidence of hung juries, which have doubled in number over the past decade, was one of several reasons
which persuaded the cabinet to prefer majority verdicts.
"Hung juries increase the personal and financial costs and emotional strain on defendants, complainants and witnesses
"The unanimity rule also puts pressure on jurors, sometimes forcing minority jurors to agree to positions at odds with
"It also allows undue influence by so-called rogue jurors who come from a position of overt prejudice or sympathy and
refuse to participate in the deliberation process.
"Judge-alone trials will be possible in limited circumstances if the court is satisfied that the trial will last more
than four weeks and will involve complex issues difficult for a jury to understand.
"This however will not restrict the right to trial by jury for serious charges such as murder, sexual violation and
serious violent offending. At most, it will probably involve only one or two trials a year such as last years complex
computer fraud case which ran for 56 working days (and resulted in acquittal).
Other significant changes which will occur under the legislation include -
- Making it an offence for an employer to terminate or threaten to terminate the employment of an employee, or otherwise
prejudice an employee's position, because of that employee's absence for jury service.
- The reduction of the number of peremptory challenges available to both prosecution and defence counsel in criminal
trials from six to four. Peremptory challenges are valuable in allowing defence and prosecution alike to remove
potential jurors perceived as biased or unsuitable for jury service. However research shows that the present number of
challenges encourage each side to go beyond this to try to construct a sympathetic jury, and reduce the
representativeness of the jury.
- Increasing the maximum penalty for failing to answer a jury summons from $300 to $1000.
- Provide for jurors to defer jury service for a period of no more than 12 months.
- Increasing the pool of potential jurors by extending jury district boundaries from 30 to 45 kilometres.
- Abolishing the routine sequestration of juries during deliberations.
"There are also issues relating to the rates paid to jurors and reimbursement of reasonable expenses arising from jury
service. Work is continuing on this area between the Ministry of Justice and the Department for courts.
"The changes which will be made in this legislation will help improve the jury system and improve the quality of the
justice system. The changes will be subject to further close scrutiny at the select committee stage which will allow
public input into the final decision-making," Mr Goff said.
Media background information on legislative changes relating to juries in criminal trials.
Trial without a Jury
- Some trials that are too long or complex for juries. If a court is satisfied that having made all reasonable
procedural orders to facilitate the shortening of the trial it is probable that the trial will exceed 20 sitting days (4
calendar weeks), it may on the application of the Crown order trial by judge alone.
- This however will not apply to cases involving serious offences such as murder, sexual violation and violent offences.
- The Court must be satisfied that the circumstances of the case mean that the imposition on potential jurors of sitting
during the predicted duration of the trial outweighs the entitlement of an accused to trial by jury.
- The circumstances of the case which would need to be considered by the Court include the complexity of the legal
issues, the number and nature of the charges, the nature of the offence, and the volume of evidence.
- It is thought that this mechanism will be used only rarely in complex and lengthy cases such as a computer fraud case
that ran for 56 days (resulting in acquittal).
Making Juries More Representative
The maximum penalty for failing to answer a jury summons will be raised from the current maximum penalty of a $300 fine
to a $1,000 fine. The current maximum fine is insufficient to deter some persons from refusing to serve. However Cabinet
has rejected the Law Commission proposal of a maximum penalty including 7 days imprisonment.
Jurors will be allowed to defer jury service to a date not more than 12 months in the future, so that excusal from jury
service can be provided much more sparingly. This is related to the proposals discussed below in relation to employment,
to provide greater flexibility for employers and employees to plan for absences from work to undertake jury service.
At present, jury districts include all places within 30 kilometres by the most practicable route from the courthouse in
the town in which jury trials may be held. The applicable distance has been adjusted at regular intervals over the years
but has been at its current level since 1976. Those living outside jury districts can never be called for jury service.
This reduces the representativeness of juries and imposes an additional burden on those who live within the districts.
Jury boundaries will be extended from 30 to 45 kilometres.
Note: the Minister last year also legislated to lift the restriction on persons aged 65 years and over from serving on
juries, though citizens over this age can opt out if they choose.
The present provisions governing the discharge of jurors appear in a number of different statutory provisions, which are
overlapping but apply rather different legal tests. Sections 22 Juries Act 1981, 374 Crimes Act 1961 and 54B Judicature
Act 1908 will be repealed and replaced with a single discharge provision.
The Minister proposes that the single provision should be a new section 22 of the Juries Act 1981, modelled on section
644(1) of the Canadian Criminal Code, which should include the following elements:
- Confirm the defendant's right to be present for all applications to discharge a juror.
- Allow the discharge of one juror or the whole jury.
- Include the power to empanel a replacement juror before the case opens, and to elect a new foreman if the foreman is
- Allow the judge, when considering whether to discharge a juror, to conduct a hearing, and consider such evidence, as
he or she thinks fit.
In New Zealand, prosecution and defence have the right to six peremptory challenges of balloted jurors (that is,
challenges without the need to give a reason). These procedures are valuable because they allow the defence to eliminate
persons who are perceived, rightly or wrongly, to be potentially prejudiced against the defence, and thus reduces the
potential for feelings of injustice upon conviction; they allow the prosecutor to eliminate, speedily and without fuss,
people who might have bias or prejudice; and they allow both sides to eliminate obvious "misfits" from the jury.
Challenges for cause are an inefficient and cumbersome means of achieving this. However, research by the Department of
Justice (Trial by Peers, 1995) indicated that peremptory challenges are actually used by both prosecution and defence
counsel as an attempt to construct a jury, which they believe, will be favourable to their cause. As very little
information about potential jurors is available to counsel, such challenges tend to be based on stereotypes on the basis
of the person’s appearance, age, ethnicity, occupation and residence and the overall effect is to reduce the
representativeness of the jury.
Six peremptory challenges for each side is more than is necessary for the stated purpose and allows counsel too great an
opportunity to use challenges in an inappropriate way. It is proposed that the number be reduced to four.
Presentation of Evidence
The normal structure of a criminal trial is for the prosecution to present its evidence followed by the defence, as
required by section 367 of the Crimes Act 1961. Expert witnesses are called by both parties and the fact that they may
give evidence days or even weeks apart can make it difficult for a jury to be clear about the actual points of
difference. This section will be amended to make provision for the Court to allow expert witnesses from both the
prosecution and defence to be called in sequence to assist the jury’s comprehension of the issues in dispute. In fact,
some judges have allowed this on occasion under their inherent jurisdiction to manage the conduct of a trial. It is
considered more desirable, however, that the statute be amended to make it clear that the Court has this discretion.
The current practice is for juries to be “sequestered” once they begin deliberation. This means that where they have not
reached a verdict by late evening, jury members are checked into a hotel and are not permitted to make telephone calls
or have access to television or newspapers. The intention is to ensure that they are not subject to any outside
influence in reaching a verdict. Routine sequestration of juries is no longer provided in most comparable overseas
jurisdictions. This practice involves a significant imposition on juries, especially those with family responsibilities,
and can create inappropriate pressure on jurors to reach a verdict prematurely.
- The practice of routine sequestration during deliberation will end, but the Court will retain the discretion to
sequester during deliberation if in the circumstances of the case it is appropriate. A provision similar to section 13
Juries Act 1974 (UK) will be included in our Juries Act 1981 to effect this.
- Judges will be able to sequester juries prior to deliberation but this should only occur in exceptional circumstances.
- Majority verdicts of 11:1 will be introduced and available for both acquittals and convictions in all cases, including
- Juries will be required to deliberate for at least four hours before being permitted to return a majority verdict.
2. There are valid arguments both in favour of and against the use of majority verdicts. The arguments in favour of
retaining unanimous verdicts are:
- They underpin the burden and standard of proof in criminal trials because they reflect a central principle of criminal
law: that a defendant should be given the benefit of any reasonable doubt. They also increase the likelihood that guilty
verdicts will be accurate.
- They encourage careful discussion and increase the likelihood of each juror participating and being listened to.
- They ensure that the representative character of the jury is implicit in the verdict, minimising any risk of bias.
- They increase community confidence in the verdict and in the criminal justice system.
3. The arguments in favour of adopting majority verdicts are:
- The unanimity requirement provides an incentive to intimidate, corrupt or otherwise improperly persuade jurors. This
was the basis for the introduction of majority verdicts (which in England are defined as requiring a 10:2 majority) in
England in 1967 although there is not yet evidence that a significant problem of "jury nobbling" or juror intimidation
exists in New Zealand.
- Unanimity is often the result of attrition - the wearing down of minority jurors by exhaustion. Majority verdicts
allow dissenting jurors to maintain their positions rather than being forced into a verdict which is at odds with their
- The unanimity rule increases personal and financial costs and emotional strain on defendants, complainants and
- Majority verdicts, especially if they are confined to 11:1, are desirable to avoid the occasional hung juries that
result from an irrational or "rogue" juror who refuses to participate in the deliberation and bases his or her view on
overt prejudice or sympathy.
In the period from June 1999 to October 2000 the rate of hung juries in the High Court has ranged from 10.9% (August
2000) to 13.1% (October 2000) and in the District Court from 6.8% (June 2000) to 8.1 % (June 1999). This figure is
approximately double the normal level of hung juries at the start of the decade.
While the Law Commission recommends that the jury should not disclose whether its verdict is unanimous or by a majority,
the Minister has reservations about the workability of this approach. In many cases where majority verdicts are reached,
the likelihood that this is the case will be evident to participants in and observers of the trial. The fact that it is
not made public will simply lead to speculation. The Minister therefore proposes that the nature of the verdict should
be communicated to the judge when it is delivered.
Secrecy of Jury Deliberations and the Role of the Media
At present the rules regarding the publication of information about a trial, including material resulting from jurors,
are governed by the common law on contempt of court. The recommendation of the Commission, which is supported by the
Minister, is that it should be a statutory offence to publish material that may lead to the identification of any juror,
punishable by both the High Court and District Court.
Minimizing the Adverse Impact of Being a Juror
The research showed that jurors sometimes confront employment difficulties and fear that their position as an employee
will be prejudiced by their absence. Often, too, they are required to keep up with work in their workplace while serving
as a juror. It will become an offence for an employer to terminate or threaten to terminate a person’s employment or
otherwise prejudice an employee's position because the employee is, was or will be absent because of jury service.
Prejudicing a person's employment refers to situations such as withholding privileges or benefits. It is not intended to
create entitlement to paid leave for jury service; the only obligation on the employer will be to allow the employee to
have time off work for this purpose. A similar provision to that proposed came into effect in Victoria at the beginning
of this year. The creation of this offence will require an amendment to the Juries Act 1981.
Summary of legislative changes
1. Other than in respect to serious offences such as murder, sexual violation and serious violent offences, allow the
court, on application by the Crown, to order trial by judge alone where the accused has elected jury trial, where the
- Is satisfied that, having made all reasonable procedural orders to facilitate the shortening of the trial it is
probable that it will exceed 20 sitting days; and
- Is satisfied that the circumstances of the case mean that the imposition on potential jurors of sitting during the
predicted duration of the trial outweighs the entitlement of an accused to a jury trial.
- In considering the circumstances of the case, has considered the complexity of the legal issues, the number and nature
of the charges, the nature of the offence, and the volume of evidence.
2. Increase the maximum penalty for failing to answer a jury summons from $300 to $1000.
3. Provide for jurors to defer jury service for a period of no more than 12 months.
4. Increase the pool of potential jurors by extending jury district boundaries from 30 to 45 kilometres.
5. Consolidate the provisions relating to the discharge of jurors into a single section of the Juries Act 1981.
6. Reduce the number of peremptory challenges available to prosecution and defence counsel in criminal trials from six
to four each.
7. Make statutory provision for the court to allow expert witnesses for the prosecution and defence to be heard in
sequence to assist the jury's understanding of the issues in dispute.
8. Abolish routine sequestration of juries during deliberations.
9. Introduce 11:1 majority verdicts.
10. Make it an offence to publish material that may lead to the identification of any juror.
11. Make it an offence for an employer to terminate or threaten to terminate the employment of any employee, or
otherwise prejudice an employee's position, because of the employee's absence for jury service.