Hong Kong jurors need not have to worry about work
The government should be setting an example and ensuring civil servants are given time off when fulfilling their duty on jury service
Trial by jury is an integral part of Hong Kong’s justice system. The use of members of the public to decide on the guilt or innocence of defendants charged with serious offences provides an important safeguard against abuses of power by the authorities. It also helps build confidence in the legal system through public participation. Trial by jury is, therefore, protected by the Basic Law, the city’s de facto constitution, and enjoys public support.
Serving on a jury, however, can be a stressful and onerous experience. Jurors must step away from their ordinary, everyday lives and spend hours listening to evidence in an unfamiliar courtroom environment. At the end of the trial, they have the heavy responsibility of reaching a verdict. Their decision determines the fate of the defendant, who may walk free if acquitted or face many years behind bars if convicted. The jurors who served in the case of former chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, who was accused of corruption, gave almost a month of their lives to this civic duty and even spent a night at the court before concluding they were split and could not reach a verdict. One juror, who works for the Department of Health, complained during the trial that she was required to work on Saturdays, when the court was not sitting. The director of health was summoned to court by the judge to explain and apologised for any inconvenience caused. The judge told the jurors they were not required to work at weekends while serving on the jury.
Jurors in Hong Kong are drawn from a small pool of relatively well educated people. Many of them worry about being away from work and struggle to catch up outside court hours. Sometimes jurors are tired in court and there have been occasions when a juror has fallen asleep. Employers are required by law not to discriminate against members of staff who are serving on a jury. It is important that jury service is respected and that jurors are allowed to concentrate on the trial. They must not be distracted by work. The government should be setting an example and ensuring civil servants are spared work when fulfilling their duty as jurors. The success of the city’s treasured jury system depends on it.