Judicial discretion, rather than imposed time limits, should direct how long jury deliberations run for during trials, an inquiry has been told.
The merits of halving jury deliberation times are being examined as part of a proposed overhaul of legislation in NSW to reduce the number of hung juries and trial costs.
NSW and Queensland require juries to deliberate for eight hours before the possibility of a majority 11-1 verdict can be raised, longer than all other states and territories.
It means juries with a single hold-out can be repeatedly told to “try harder” for a unanimous verdict as judges keep an eye on the clock.
But Justice Derek Price, the chief judge of the NSW District Court, said there was no ‘magic number’ for how long a jury should deliberate to reach a verdict.
Instead it depended on the circumstances of the trial.
Justice Price said trial judges developed a relationship with the jury and often understood how deliberations were going despite not being in the room.
“Judges can tell from the demeanour of the jurors what’s happening in many instances and so that’s why, rather than having a time limit of eight hours or four hours, it should be left to the trial judge’s discretion and understanding,” he told the inquiry on Wednesday.
“If you don’t have a time limit at all then you’re far better off because there’s no ‘magic’ end time.”
Justice Price added that he supported a reduction in the minimum deliberation time but said this had nothing to do with potential trial savings.
“What the concern of judges has been is for the well-being of jurors and the integrity of their verdicts,” he said.
“Any such (cost) savings would be minuscule.”
The time limit change was recommended by an independent review last year and has the support of the NSW government, prosecutors and judges.
Deadlocked jurors are also not told of the time limit, regardless of when an impasse is reached.
NSW Director of Public Prosecutions deputy director Brett Hatfield said this presented problems for the integrity of the verdict.
“When (jurors) just get told to go back to deliberate further and deliberate further, the risk is that … people won’t give a true verdict, they will give a verdict just to get out of there,” he said.
“The most important thing is just outcomes in criminal trials.”
(Australian Associated Press)