Lawyers and doctors reject change to jury exemption

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 28 August, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 28 August, 2007, 12:00am

Professionals see good reasons for being excused court duty

Lawyers and the head of Hong Kong's largest medical group voiced their opposition yesterday to having members of their professions serve as jurors.

Their comments came after the South China Morning Post's report yesterday that the Law Reform Commission would release a consultation paper in a few months on the criteria for selecting jurors.

Among other things, the paper will question whether the existing list of professions exempted from jury service is too long and outdated.

The list includes judges and their spouses, lawyers, policemen, doctors, chemists, pilots and those in religious professions.

Clive Grossman, vice-chairman of the Bar Association, agreed the pool of potential jurors should be enlarged, but said judges and lawyers should not serve on juries.

'The whole idea is that you should have a jury of your peers. 'Peers' means people who are not [legal] professionals,' he said.

The barrister said that the task of giving directions of law to juries should be reserved for judges, while a jury should stick to deciding the facts.

'The danger is if you have somebody who is knowledgeable in law like a lawyer or a judge, you may simply disagree with the way you are instructed,' Mr Grossman said.

Policemen should also be freed from jury duty since they have 'a natural affinity with the prosecution'. But he saw no reason why professions unrelated to the law should not be involved.

A juror has to be a Hong Kong resident aged between 21 and 65, of good character, and have a sufficient knowledge of the language in which the proceedings are conducted. In practice, they have to be educated to Form Seven level.

The judiciary said there are about 560,000 people on its provisional list of jurors.

Stephen Hung Wan-shun, chairman of the Law Society's criminal law and procedure committee, agreed with Mr Grossman.

'Nobody knows what goes on in the jury room once they close the door for deliberations,' he said.

'Suppose there is a case where the defendant claims that he made his statement under the threat from police officers.

'If a veteran policeman serves on a jury and a juror asks him if that was a practice of the police, what do you think he would answer?'

Choi Kin, president of the Hong Kong Medical Association, said doctors should continue to be exempted.

'There is a severe shortage of manpower in the Hospital Authority, and the number of medical blunders has been increasing.

'If our doctors are asked to serve on juries for days and weeks, who should take responsibility if more blunders arise? The government?' he said.

Mr Hung said Hong Kong could consider widening the jury pool by lowering the language requirement for jurors in trials conducted in Chinese while maintaining the same standard for juries in English trials. But there were pros and cons.

'Jurors are mostly highly educated. If the defendant is a coolie, strictly speaking he is not tried by his peers, but by professionals. However, with lower language requirements for Chinese trials, the jury will be representative of a larger proportion of the grass roots. The trial can be conducted more efficiently as there is no need for translation,' he said.

But there was the issue that expatriates would be excluded from the increasing number of jury cases conducted in Chinese, he added.