Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2008 Week 03 Hansard (Tuesday, 1 April 2008) . . Page.. 792 ..
disability on their ability to process what is happening and obviously the effects on the length and cost of the trial are important factors that should be considered.
The primary consideration in a trial is not, with respect, the rights of the juror. Their rights are important, but the most important consideration should and must be the right to a fair and timely trial of the accused. If this can happen with a juror who happens to be blind or deaf, then there should be nothing in the legislation which expressly prohibits the inclusion of that person on a jury. If it cannot, however, and the nature of the circumstances, either of the case or of the prospective juror, means that the right to a fair trial might be compromised, then commonsense must prevail.
I understand that section 16 of the Juries Act provides:
If a judge is satisfied that a person summoned or appointed to attend to serve as a juror … is suffering such mental or physical disability as to be incapacitated for the proper discharge of the duties of a juror, the judge may discharge that person from further attendance on the Supreme Court under that summons or appointment.
However, I would echo the comment of the scrutiny of bills committee that the government should have sought to provide clearer explanation of this area of the law. It can save considerable time and energy if such matters are made clear from the outset.
Aside from these two issues, I believe that the bill is uncontroversial and will serve to tidy up various matters of law. Therefore, as I indicated earlier, I will be supporting the Justice and Community Safety Legislation Amendment Bill.
DR FOSKEY (Molonglo) (5.39): I welcome the provisions of this bill entitling people with various disabilities to be eligible for jury duty. I do share the concerns identified in the scrutiny of bills committee report about the expense of providing signing services, but on balance I think the cost is not so great and would not occur so frequently that it should dissuade us from removing one more area of discrimination against people based on their physical characteristics.
As the committee report mentions, the US and New Zealand have both removed these discriminatory provisions and they have not reported any significant problems. In regard to the additional cost, I do not think it will be very large. The use of a jury is increasingly rare these days and the number of profoundly deaf or blind people who will be called up for jury duty and not excluded in the empanelling process will surely be minimal.
I acknowledge the concerns expressed that this bill may compromise the right to a fair trial, but it is a sad truth that a potential juror’s capacity to comprehend the evidence and substance of the case is not usually the highest quality that a defence barrister looks for in a juror. If defence counsel think that a person’s disability is likely to prejudice their client’s case, they will exclude that person from the duty, just as any other juror can be excluded.
I am hoping that this bill will enable a wider class of people to take their chances in the jury selection process, which is, after all, supposed to result in a trial by a jury of