The Role of a Jury (NT)
Updated on Oct 06, 2022 • 5 min read • 275 views • Copy Link
The Role of a Jury (NT)
The jury system is a cornerstone of the criminal justice system in the Northern Territory. A jury is a group of ordinary citizens, selected at random from a pool of those eligible to serve, sworn to render an impartial verdict on the evidence presented to them in court. It may also be responsible for setting the penalty or punishment on a guilty defendant, although this is most often decided by a judicial officer. This article explains the role of a jury in the Northern Territory.
Western democracy has a long history of citizen participation in the legal system. The right to trial by one’s peers, in particular, was historically considered a key protection against tyranny. In simple terms, it was thought that if a person faced the loss of their liberty (or even their life), they should only be judged by local members of their community who were of good standing. In this way, they would be held to the standard of their local community, and not judged by an arbitrary or oppressive government authority. Historically, this meant that early juries in Australia were made up predominantly of white male landowners. In the modern era, efforts have been made to ensure that juries are more representative of the modern Australian community.
Juries in the Northern Territory
The laws governing juries in the Northern Territory are the Juries Act 1963, Juries Regulations 1983 and certain provisions of the Criminal Code Act 1983. These laws stipulate that a criminal case is heard before 12 adult citizens, while a civil trial jury is composed of four eligible adults. Generally, juries in the Northern Territory only sit on criminal cases in the Supreme Court of the Northern Territory when a defendant is charged with an indictable offence. In rare cases, juries are empanelled for less serious criminal cases in the Local court. This only occurs upon the request of one of the parties and when the Bench considers the presence of a jury to be in the interests of justice. In addition, some civil cases in the Northern Territory feature a jury, including some coronial inquests.
Role of the jury in the Northern Territory
In a criminal trial, the role of a jury is to decide whether the accused has been proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt on the evidence presented at trial. Juries in a criminal trial bring 12 different perspectives and lived experiences to a trial and are therefore thought to better reflect the values of the community than a single judge. As representatives of the community, jurors provide a non-specialist approach to evaluating evidence. That is not to say that a juror does not bring an inherent bias to their deliberations, or that the selection process does not discriminate against certain Northern Territorian residents.
A typical jury trial in the Northern Territory takes no longer than ten days. During this time, the jury views the evidence and hears arguments from both sides. The trial judge decides whether certain evidence is admissible to be presented to the jury, and the jury weighs that evidence to decide the true facts of the case. A juror is supposed to make a judgment based only on the evidence that the judge allows them to see. Jurors are prohibited from privately communicating with anyone involved in the trial, having prior knowledge of the trial, or investigating or researching on their own behalf. This has become more problematic in the internet age, where it is difficult for a potential or current juror to avoid hearing prejudicial information about a defendant. Even when a judge makes a suppression order to keep certain information out of the local media, this does not prevent the dissemination of information through overseas media and social media posts.
At the conclusion of a trial, the judge instructs the jury on which elements of the case they are responsible for deciding. Jury deliberations occur in secret, away from the courtroom. The jury must decide whether each of the elements of the crime has been proved beyond a reasonable doubt to find a defendant guilty in a criminal trial. When a jury reaches a decision (or informs the judge that they are unable to reach a decision), they return to the courtroom to announce the result to those in attendance. There is no requirement for the jury to give written reasons for their verdict. Most juries reach a unanimous verdict, although in some cases, the decision of 11 out of 12 jurors is sufficient. When the jury cannot reach an agreement after a reasonable period of deliberation, it is known as a hung jury. In that unusual event, the jury is dismissed, and a new jury is impanelled to hear the case.
Go To Court Lawyers can help with any questions you have about the role of the jury in the Northern Territory. Our team can advise you on whether it is worth making an application for a jury trial in a civil case and help develop a strategy for a jury trial in a criminal case. Please contact the team on 1300 636 846.
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