Researchers challenge jury selection process

5 JULY 2010

A CSU researcher says her co-authored study of the jury selection process in Australia indicates that the current conditions under which Australian jurors are selected make peremptory challenges inappropriate in contemporary courtrooms.

CSU's Professor Jane Goodman-DelahuntyA Charles Sturt University (CSU) researcher says her co-authored study of the jury selection process in Australia indicates that the current conditions under which Australian jurors are selected make peremptory challenges inappropriate in contemporary courtrooms.
 
Professor Jane Goodman-Delahunty, lecturer and researcher at the CSU Australian Graduate School of Policing in Manly, and the School of Psychology, stated, “My co-author, Dr Jacqueline Horan, and I argue that reviews of jury selection processes and reforms being implemented to the jury system in several Australian states, have demonstrated that the peremptory challenge process is a prominent, visible, costly and unnecessary phase in the empanelment of a jury.
 
“We cite a recent terrorist trial in Victoria (R vs Benbrika) in which the Juries Commissioner had to summon 2 000 potential jurors of whom 1 075 attended court before most were dismissed. The time and expense of the challenge process were borne by both the taxpayer and the parties.  It is an inefficient and expensive process that sees many eligible citizens set aside time for jury service only to be peremptorily dismissed.
 
“The challenge process deprives some citizens of their opportunity to serve on a jury.  There must be good reason to deprive members of the community of this increasingly recognised right. Furthermore, potential jurors should not be compelled to participate in the potentially personally embarrassing jury ‘rejection’ process.
 
“Most importantly, peremptory challenges undermine the essential elements of the impartial jury: that they be randomly selected and representative of the community. The way challenges are used today means that they no longer assist in securing an impartial jury in any meaningful way.
 
“Randomly selected juries educate lawyers and the judiciary as to contemporary community values. There should be strong justification for interfering with the random selection of juries so as not to jeopardise this role.
 
“The jury system is constantly evolving and is now very different to a century ago,” Professor Goodman-Delahunty said. “For example, a barrister can remove a citizen from the jury box based on a subjective personal reaction to superficial features of the juror’s appearance, such as race or gender.  In an age where race and gender equality are vehemently protected by the law, the peremptory challenge process contradicts community values.
 
“This is inconsistent with both the contemporary justice system and generally accepted standards in a modern democratic society.  The challenge process is reduced to a guessing game, making it an embarrassment in a criminal justice system that should be based on logic.
 
“We emphasise that abolishing peremptory challenges does not mean abandoning an essential feature of trial by jury, but rather it is an adjustment to more closely conform with contemporary standards and to make juries more truly representative of the community.
 
“Supreme Court trials are estimated to cost $40,000 per day (several hundred dollars per minute). In a court system crippled by costs and consequently struggling to provide access to justice for the citizens it serves, the potential cost savings of abolishing the peremptory challenge process is worth consideration,” Professor Goodman-Delahunty said.
 
The study focussed on two jurisdictions with different jury empanelment processes; NSW, where jurors are empanelled by number, and Victoria, where jurors are mainly identified in court by name and occupation. It also compared the more elaborate peremptory challenge process used in jury trials in the United States. The authors illustrated their analysis with relevant excerpts from 53 structured interviews with judges, lawyers and jury administrators in order to provide a more nuanced description of current peremptory challenge practices in the Australian criminal justice system.

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