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Law Reform Index

Unanimous Jury Verdicts

NZ Herald
January 22 2004

Majority rules in jury law change
by Helen Tunnah, deputy political editor

A rogue or sole juror will not be able to hold out against a person being convicted of a crime under jury law changes being introduced next year.

The new law will scrap the centuries-old tradition that all 12 jurors must agree on a verdict. Instead, an 11-1 vote will be allowed.

Justice Minister Phil Goff says the change will reduce the growing number of hung juries and stop organised crime and gangs intimidating jurors.

He said reports from "people in the justice system" told of gangs involved in the illegal drugs trade trying to influence juries.

"Unanimity, in my view, is too high a threshold," Mr Goff said. "There is some evidence of intimidation of juries."

Allowing majority verdicts would also eliminate the influence of "rogue" jurors, who may be simply unco-operative or unreasonable.

It would also limit the risk of bribery or corruption of a juror. If intimidation of jurors were suspected, the prosecution would be able to apply to the courts for a judge to hear the case without a jury.

Mr Goff said such judge-alone trials would be very rare, and he did not think the provision eroded a defendant's right to a trial by jury.

Under the planned law, juries may also be eliminated in complicated and lengthy fraud cases. These would be cases likely to last more than a month, or where the evidence would probably be too difficult for many people to understand.

The defence or prosecution would be able to apply for a judge-alone trial.

A 2001 Law Commission report recommended that the Government allow majority verdicts.

It said that in the previous year, 13 per cent of cases heard at the High Court resulted in a hung jury on one or more of the charges being heard.

The use of unanimous verdicts goes back as far as the 14th century.

But Britain moved to majority 10-2 verdicts in 1967 because of intimidation and bribery fears, and some Australian states allow majority verdicts.

Mr Goff said he was being conservative in preferring an 11-1 to a 10-2 majority verdict. It would better ensure that a person was proved "beyond reasonable doubt" to have committed a crime.

He will introduce the Criminal Procedures Bill to Parliament before the middle of the year, and changes will take effect from next year.

The Auckland District Law Society vice-president, Gary Gotlieb, a defence lawyer, was yesterday lukewarm about majority verdicts.

"It's better than 10-2," he said. "My feeling is that if there was going to be a majority verdict, it should be for an acquittal."

Unanimous verdicts should be required to secure a conviction.

Mr Gotlieb said he doubted the change would reduce the incidence of hung juries - where jurors cannot agree - because splits in such cases tended to be between several people, rather than just one person holding out against the other 11 jurors.

The new law will also overhaul conditions for jurors.

Anyone called up for jury service will be able to defer it for a year for work or personal reasons.

Fines for people deliberately trying to avoid jury service will go from $300 to $1000.

It will also be against the law for employers to discriminate against any worker called to serve on a jury.

"There's a bit of carrot and a bit of stick," Mr Goff said. "What we want is for people to do their civic duty without being penalised by it."

Allowing people to defer jury service reflected the pressure long trials put on a person and their employer.

Other changes in courtroom procedure which do not require new law are also planned. They include recording evidence for later transcription, rather than using stenographers.

The Cabinet has approved the change to majority verdicts, but Mr Goff also intends lobbying for increased fees for jurors, and possible reimbursement for parking and childcare costs.


Jury law reform

·                A jury will be able to decide 11-1 on a verdict.

·                A majority verdict will guard against intimidation and bribery of jurors.

·                It will also reduce the prospect of hung juries.

·                A judge will hear a trial alone if a jury or juror is intimidated.

·                Judges rather than juries may hear complex fraud or lengthy cases.

·                Fines for people deliberately skipping jury service will be trebled.

·                Increased fees, childcare and parking payments for jurors are being considered.