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Saturday 16 December 2017

Jury vetting tightened after criminal trials jeopardised

Ralph Riegel

Ralph Riegel

A CRACKDOWN on jury vetting will be launched following a series of gaffes that almost collapsed several high-profile criminal trials.

The Irish Independent has learnt that the Government is to fast-track Law Reform Commission (LRC) proposals on changes to the jury system in light of a series of embarrassing errors.

Stricter enforcement of existing jury selection and vetting guidelines will also be ordered following several controversies.

These include:

• A juror posting comments about a running trial on a social media website.

• Another juror being removed from an indecent assault trial after it emerged they were themselves under investigation for a serious criminal offence.

• One juror commencing a lengthy trial and not informing the court about a serious medical condition which later forced them to be excused.

In one case, a Circuit Court judge protested to the State, Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and gardai about their complete lack of awareness regarding one serving juror's involvement in an ongoing criminal investigation.

The matter came to light during a high-profile trial when an anonymous caller contacted gardai and alerted them to the situation.

The caller claimed the juror involved had been boasting in a local pub about being on an indecent assault trial jury despite his being involved in an ongoing garda investigation.

While the trial ultimately proceeded without the individual, the defence team have asked for a transcript of the juror's discharge for a pending Court of Criminal Appeal challenge.

A senior criminal defence solicitor, who asked not to be named, said that Ireland's jury selection and vetting procedures were outdated and needed to be overhauled.

"This is a problem that has been waiting to happen for some time," he said.

The LRC published a detailed series of recommendations on reform of the jury system in 2010.

As part of the reforms, the LRC provisionally proposed:

• Provision for vetting of juries, to ensure that disqualified jurors are not included on the empanelling list for jurors, be included in legislation.

• That the Garda Central Vetting Unit alone should be empowered to provide information as to whether a potential juror is disqualified from jury service.

• That legislation be introduced to make it an offence for a juror to disclose matters discussed in the jury room, or to make enquiries about matters arising in the course of a trial beyond the evidence presented.

Irish Independent

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