Check Against Delivery

 

Seanad Commencement Matter

18 June 2015
 

Senator Colm Burke

 

Response by Minister of State Simon Harris TD on behalf of the Minister for Justice and Equality, Frances Fitzgerald TD

On behalf of Frances Fitzgerald, T.D., Minister for Justice and Equality I wish to thank Senator Burke for raising the matter. The Minister regrets she is unable to be present for this discussion.

Jurors are an essential part of the administration of justice in our country. A key principle of a fair judicial system, provided for in the Constitution, is the right to a trial by jury. The Juries Act, 1976 (as amended) sets out the current law on jury selection and jury service including issues such as eligibility and the selection and service of jurors.

As the Senator will be aware, there is no provision in the Juries Act, 1976 for the payment of expenses to jurors or their employers from State funds. When policy underlying the Act was being formulated, consideration was given to the matter of expenses but it was decided that expenses should not be paid as performance of jury service was considered to be a basic civic duty which arose relatively infrequently as far as the individual is concerned. That policy has been retained by successive Governments.

Section 29 of the Act of 1976 does, however, make provision for employees to be paid by their employers while on jury service. Under section 9 of the Act of 1976, a County Registrar may excuse any person whom he or she has summoned as a juror from attendance during the whole or any part of the sittings in question if that person shows to the County Registrar's satisfaction that there is good reason why he or she should be so excused, for example if a person is self-employed and works alone and where their attendance at jury service may mean they cannot earn a living, they may qualify for excusal from jury service. This is entirely a matter for the County Registrar concerned and the Minister has no function in this regard.

Under current legislative provisions, jurors do not get reimbursed for their time or travel expenses and employers are obliged to continue to pay employees while they serve on a jury. The Courts Service does however provide meals and other refreshments to jurors when serving on a jury.

The Law Reform Commission Report on Jury Service which was published in April 2013 contains 56 recommendations covering a broad range of issues relating to jury service. Chapter 9 of this report covers recommendations on jury compensation and expenses, including an introduction of a modest flat rate daily payment to cover the cost of transport and other incidentals involved in jury service and these issues are being fully considered in the Department. Some of the recommendations in the Law Reform Commission's report have cost implications and these recommendations require careful evaluation in the current economic climate and are currently being considered in the context of a Juries Bill which is included in the Government’s Legislation Programme and will be brought forward in due course.

The Government has already taken steps in regard to the recommendation concerning additional jurors for lengthy criminal trials. Part 5 of the Courts and Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2013 provides for the appointment of up to three additional jurors to deal with lengthy criminal trials.

The issue of jury selection is a matter for the Courts Service. The Courts Service has informed the Minister that it is engaged in a process of making the administration of jury service summonses and notices more streamlined and centralised.