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Twelve good citizens and slaves

By Gavin Putland - posted Thursday, 15 March 2001

According to the pious rhetoric of politicians and lawyers, the jury is the capstone of the criminal justice system. According to the financial priorities of those same politicians and lawyers, the jury is the doormat. In Queensland, the daily fee of an empanelled juror is $43 for days 1 to 3 of a trial, rising to $73 for days 16 to 20. These rates are below the minimum legal full-time adult wage. And remember that jurors, unlike other workers, do not enter into this arrangement voluntarily or even by reason of economic necessity; they are unilaterally summoned and threatened with penalties for non-compliance. Only if the trial lasts longer than 20 days does a juror start earning legal wages ($107 per day for the rest of the trial). In most trials, the State pays the Crown Prosecutor more than it pays all 12 jurors together!

I do not know what labyrinthine legislative device, if any, allows the State of Queensland to breach its own labour laws in the treatment of jurors; but whatever it is, it violates the first principle of civilized government: that the State is under the law, not above it.

Part-timers beware


Low fees for jurors are not a problem for full-time workers whose terms of employment allow them to perform jury service on normal pay; their employers bear the loss instead. But part-timers under the same awards receive their normal pay only for court attendances that clash with working hours; at other times they are reduced to the sub-legal jurors' fees. And if you are a casual employee, you are not entitled to paid jury leave at all. When required in court, you simply give up your normal wages in exchange for the lower jurors' fees.

Back-door sexism

If you are a full-time wife and mother, you have no employer to top up the inadequate jurors' fees. Furthermore, those fees are taxable and may cause you to lose family allowance and other social security payments. On the Juror Allowances Form, childcare expenses are not mentioned. Allowing for these effects, your net wages for jury service may turn out to be negative.

The old Queensland Jury Act (pre-1995) was denounced as sexist because it allowed a female to escape jury service simply because she was female. In view of the plight of full-time wives and mothers – and of part-time and casual workers, who have a strong tendency to be female – I have a vehement suspicion that the new Act is more sexist than the old.

"But," the Government will say, "a mother can be excused if jury service would be an unreasonable burden." Yes, but what fraction of a juror's fees must be lost to childcare, taxation and social security before it becomes "unreasonable"? And how many full-time wives and mothers can calculate all of these losses without (expensive) professional help? These uncertainties make the system arbitrary and inconsistent, rewarding complaint and penalizing good citizenship.

Come in, sucker


Persons who can and should apply to be excused from jury service may fail to do so because of defects in the two letters sent by the Sheriff's office, namely the initial Notice to Prospective Jurors and the subsequent Summons to a Juror. For example:

  • The Notice assures the reader that jurors are paid for their services, but does not say that they get less than the minimum legal wage; that information is delayed until the Summons.
  • Neither the Notice nor the Summons spells out the disadvantage faced by part-time and casual workers and by non-participants in the workforce.
  • The treatment of jurors' fees for purposes of taxation and social security is not mentioned.
  • The brochure accompanying the Summons casually notes that if the prospective juror is empanelled, the trial may extend beyond the range of dates indicated in the Notice and Summons. There is no mention of this fact in the initial Notice. A juror who takes the Notice at face value when informing his/her employer of the duration of service is going to look and feel very shifty when the truth is revealed.
  • The Notice (or at least the version that I got!) declares that jurors are paid weekly. The Summons, however, reveals that they are paid fortnightly or at the end of the period of service. This error may seem trivial to well-paid politicians, lawyers and bureaucrats. Real people, however, have to pay bills by certain dates, and there is often considerable risk that they will not be able to pay. Whether jurors are paid weekly or fortnightly may affect their ability to meet payment deadlines. Besides, if the State insists on paying jurors less than its labour laws require, it might at least have the decency to pay more frequently than those laws require.
  • Although no such provision is contained in the Jury Act, the Summons declares that the only ground on which excusal can be obtained after receiving the Summons is a change in material circumstances since the Notice was returned. Failure to realize what a lousy deal jurors get is apparently not a valid excuse.

In summary, the Notice conceals the fact that the prospective juror is likely to suffer loss, so that the victim does not seek excusal, and then the Summons reveals the truth and says "Gotcha!"

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About the Author

Gavin R. Putland is the director of the Land Values Research Group at Prosper Australia.

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