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Tuesday 22 October 2019

Jurors may have to hand over phones during trials

Law Society calls for major jury service reforms

PROPOSAL: Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan. Picture: Collins
PROPOSAL: Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan. Picture: Collins
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

Jurors could soon be forced to surrender their phones while adjudicating on trials, under radical reforms of the justice system being considered by the Government.

In a submission to a Department of Justice working group on jury service, the Law Society suggests giving judges the power to ask jurors to hand over electronic devices during trials.

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English and Welsh judges have had the power to order jurors to surrender phones, or other electronic devices since 2015. If a juror refuses to hand over their phone, they can be found in contempt of court.

"The Law Society recommends the examination by the Working Group of the potential benefits of introducing a similar provision in Ireland to empower the judiciary to require electronic devices be surrendered for some trials," the submission said.

A number of trials have collapsed because jurors were alleged to have accessed outside information on the case before making an adjudication.

However, forcing jurors to hand over their phones during trials could prove controversial, given the modern reliance on technology.

The society also supports a Law Reform commission recommendation to make it an offence for a jury member to "make an inquiry" about a trial on which they are sitting .

Under this law, a juror would be found in contempt of court for making internet searches about an accused or any other aspect of the trial.

It would also make it a crime for a person to make any other outside inquiries about a trial while they are on the jury.

The recommendations are among a number of submissions made to the jury service working group. The Law Society also proposes greater protection of jurors so as to prevent intimidation or jury tampering.

The working group was asked to consider whether it would be safer if jurors were not required to give their full home address to the court.

The Law Society also recommends a major overhaul of how juries are selected and who can be called to judge on a court case.

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan's working group is examining whether the existing jury selection process provides panels which are representative of the entire of Irish society.

There are concerns the current system does not take into account the increasing number of non-Irish people living in Ireland.

The Law Society said the electoral register, which is used to select jurors, does not "adequately ensure a demographically representative jury pool".

It also recommends that UK citizens who are registered to vote in Dail elections should be eligible for jury services, as should every citizen over 18 years old who is registered for local elections.

The Law Society also suggests changes to current legislation which allows people working as doctors, nurses, teachers and public servants, to be excused from jury service.

"The current position is that very few professionals actually serve on juries and this is difficult to reconcile with the fundamental principle that the jury pool be broadly representative of the community and that jury selection should, in general, be random in nature," the submission states.

The society supports the Law Reform Commission in proposing that people should be excused from jury service for an evidence-based "good cause" rather than because of their profession.

The submission also proposes greater inclusion of people with physical and mental disabilities on juries when possible.

It recommends that jury boxes in all court rooms should be made wheelchair accessible to allow more inclusion of people with disabilities.

The Criminal Courts of Justice building in Dublin is entirely wheelchair accessible but this is not the case in other court rooms around the country. The society also recommends abolishing laws prohibiting a person with a mental disability, who is receiving treatment, from sitting on a jury. It said it should be replaced with a test of a person's mental capacity to serve.

Sunday Independent

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