Jury trials are held where people are charged with very serious criminal offences and for some types of civil matters, such as personal injury, medical negligence and defamation. Juries play an important role in reflecting the views of the community in the administration of justice. The jury empanelment process is the final and most public of the jury selection processes, as it generally takes place in open court. The empanelment process therefore has the potential to influence the community’s views of the administration of justice.
The Commission was asked to review three aspects of the jury empanelment process: peremptory challenges and the Crown right to stand aside, calling of the panel in court by name or number, and the use of additional jurors. In each of the three aspects, the Commission was asked in particular to consider its effect on jurors.
This reference has provided an important opportunity to consider the long history of jury empanelment processes, and whether these processes remain relevant in a diverse, modern Victorian society. The core tension informing this review was between the right to trial before a fair, impartial jury, and the undesirability of empanelment processes being used to facilitate stereotyping and unjustified discrimination. The balloting off of additional jurors also squarely raised the issue of juror welfare, and the effect jury processes can have on individuals.
Few comparable reviews have considered these issues so deeply, or obtained the level of community input apparent in this report. I am confident the Commission’s recommendations if implemented will enhance Victoria’s jury trial system.
I wish to thank the many people who gave their time and expertise to assist the Commission during the reference. I acknowledge the substantial contribution of the judiciary and express my warm appreciation of it. I extend particular thanks to the Juries Commissioner, Paul Dore, and his staff, who provided significant support during the Commission’s formal consultations. I warmly thank also members of the advisory committee: Professor Jonathan Clough, Peter Kidd SC, Peter Morrissey SC, Leighton Gwynn, Peta Murphy, Katherine Rynne, Robert Stary and Andrea Tsalamandris.
I would like to thank my fellow Commissioners who comprised the Division which I chaired. They were the Hon. Frank Vincent AO, the Hon. David Jones AM, Saul Holt QC and Bruce Gardner PSM. Their contribution and expertise were invaluable to this review.
Finally, I am grateful for the hard work of the jury empanelment team, led by Dr Nicole Schlesinger, and supported by policy and research officer, Martin Wimpole.
For over two decades as a judge of the Supreme Court of Victoria, I sat with juries. We are very fortunate to have honourable, responsible and committed citizens who participate centrally in the justice system, often in the most demanding circumstances.
I commend the report to you.
The Hon. Philip Cummins
Chair, Victorian Law Reform Commission