Legal expert calls for increase in city's 'outdated' jury pool

Legal expert says city's outdated and restrictive selection system should be expanded to include people from a wider range of education levels

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 10 May, 2014, 2:59am
UPDATED : Saturday, 10 May, 2014, 4:03am

Hong Kong's jury pool - which includes only about 10 per cent of the population - is too small and should be made more representative of the community, a legal expert says.

University of Hong Kong law professor Simon Young Ngai-man said outdated restrictions on such matters as age and education level should be removed.

"The jury system should be representative of the community," he said, comparing its importance to the composition of the nominating committee that will select chief executive candidates in 2017.

Another factor is the reluctance of people building careers and establishing their professional lives to serve as jurors, particularly in long, complex cases.

A more flexible jury pool could ease the difficulty in recruiting jurors for trials that drag on for weeks and months as most of the currently qualified people had full-time jobs, Young added, not referring to any recent or pending cases.

Latest figures provided by the Judiciary show that there were 714,046 people on the list of jurors at the end of 2013, about a tenth of the total population.

In England and Wales, a person registered as a parliamentary or local government elector is usually qualified to serve as a juror in most courts. The juror list in Hong Kong could more than triple if all 3.47 million registered electors became eligible.

Legislation on the appointment of jurors now requires that, among other things, a juror must be between 21 and 65 years of age, and have "a sufficient knowledge of the language in which the proceedings are to be conducted to be able to understand the proceedings".

The law does not prescribe how linguistic competence should be measured, but administrative practice excludes from the jury pool those with an educational attainment below Form Seven or its equivalent, according to a 2010 Law Reform Commission report on the issue.

"The age limit should be raised," said Young, echoing a recommendation made by the commission in the report that the upper age limit be raised to 70.

People who had not completed high school should also qualify to be jurors, he added, as linguistic competence might not necessarily be reflected by the education one got. In addition, an increasing number of trials were conducted in Chinese, the language used and understood by the majority of Hongkongers.

He said defendants should be given an option to face a trial by a judge alone in cases involving complex commercial crimes if there were worries that people without legal knowledge would not understand the details.

The academic also reiterated the commission's recommendation that the categories of persons exempt from jury service should be reviewed.

In Hong Kong, jurors are local residents who have been sworn to hear and pass verdict on an accused person in a criminal case.

In some civil cases, such as actions for defamation or malicious prosecution, a party may elect to have issues of fact tried by a jury, according to the Judiciary's website.