Sunday Business Post

DPP slates middle-class exclusion from juries

11/07/04 00:00
By Barry O'Kelly

The Director of Public Prosecutions, James Hamilton, has urged reform of the jury system, warning that juries are not representative of society as a whole.
In a submission to a high-level Oireachtas study, which has been seen by The Sunday Business Post, Hamilton questioned why the current jury process excluded many professional people.

``What one is left with is not in fact a random group of 12 citizens, but a group which is likely to contain fewer middle-class or employed persons than the population as a whole.''

The report of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights backs a call by Hamilton for an expert group to look at reform of the Juries Acts.

The committee's draft report says: ``We are concerned that, on a day-to-day basis, juries are not representative of a true cross-section of society. We urge that a method of ensuring that juries are more representative of the population as a whole be examined.''

The wide-ranging Review of the Criminal Justice System includes proposals for the possible introduction of plea bargains, dedicated witness liaison officers, court video links, the codification of the perjury laws and a dedicated central courts complex in Dublin.

The study, which is due to be published on July 21, calls for the introduction of ``plea and directions [court] hearings consistent with the constitutional rights of an accused''.

Labour's justice spokesman Joe Costello, a member of the committee, said: ``I cannot comment on the details, but I would urge the Minister for Justice, Michael McDowell, to look at it closely before he forges ahead further.''

The Bar Council, in its submission, calls for the witness protection scheme to be placed on a formal statutory footing.

The study urges that extra judges be appointed to ease a chronic backlog of cases. The DPP said: ``There are cases which have been on the list for four or five years . . . between one quarter and one fifth of all cases that are listed are not reached and are delayed once more.''

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