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Tuesday 24 April 2018

State turns blind eye to dodgers of jury duty

Conor Gallagher

No prosecutions for hundreds who ignore call for service

THE State has failed to prosecute any of the hundreds of people who have ignored jury duty despite bringing in tougher laws to compel jurors to show up.

In an amendment to the 1976 Juries Act four years ago, the fine for failing to comply with a jury summons was increased from €50 to €500 because of the number of people failing to show up.

However, according to figures released by the Courts Service, there has not been a single offender prosecuted since the 2008 amendment.

The Courts Service said about 100,000 people were called every year for jury service. Of that amount, about a third are automatically excused because their profession bars them from serving on a jury.

Another third are excused by the judge or the county registrar for legitimate excuses such as illness or a connection with a party in a trial.

That leaves about 33,000 people eligible to sit on a jury at courts around the country. A spokesman for the Courts Service said no figures were kept for the number of people who ignored jury summons but confirmed that since 2008 there hadn't been any prosecutions. The Courts Service did not respond to requests for the reasons for this.

According to the Juries Act: "Any person who, having been duly summoned as a juror, fails without reasonable excuse to attend in compliance with the summons or to attend on any day when required by the court shall be guilty of an offence."

The Act also makes it an offence to turn up unfit for jury duty due to alcohol or drugs.

There are eight circuit criminal courts and one central criminal court in the country, each requiring a jury for most of the 38 weeks in the legal year. This suggests there are hundreds of people ignoring jury summons every year.

In March 2011, a sitting of the Circuit Criminal Court at Ennis had to be abandoned because only 35 out of 250 jurors showed up.

Newly appointed judge Leonie Reynolds was outraged and recommended that all those who failed to appear should be prosecuted.

The daughter of former Taoiseach Albert Reynolds commented from the bench: "The word needs to go out that people must answer their jury summons."

Judge Reynolds continued: "I am recommending that the people who fail to appear would be sanctioned. If people are not taking their duty seriously when called to serve on a jury then there is no other alternative and the appropriate sanction has to apply."

A spokesperson for the Circuit Court said at the time it was usual for at least 60 to 70 people to attend out of the 250 people summoned for jury duty each week. She said it was the first time the number had been as low as 35.

Despite Judge Reynolds's recommendations, not one of the people who ignored their summons has since been prosecuted.

When asked about the lack of prosecutions, a Garda spokesperson said such matters were investigated only after they had been referred from the courts service. "Prosecutions in this area are taken by gardai on complaint," the spokesperson stated. "Following investigation, matters are pursued by way of summons where appropriate."

However a source within the courts service stated it was the gardai who originally asked the court service to stop referring offenders to them because, "it wasn't worth the hassle for them for €50". The source added that this practice continued even after the fine was increased.

The Department of Justice also denied it held any blame for the problem.

"The law, including the 2008 amendment to the Juries Act, is provided by the Oireachtas and the prosecution authorities are entirely independent in their decisions in relation to who should or shouldn't be prosecuted," a spokesperson said.

The department added that a wide-ranging review of the jury system is under way and a report is due early next year.

Sunday Independent

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