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Criteria for Service as Jurors
(HKLRC Report)

On 21 June 2010, the Law Reform Commission released a report on Criteria for Service as Jurors.

The existing legislation that applies to the appointment of jurors requires that a juror must be a resident of Hong Kong, between 21 and 65 years of age, not afflicted by blindness, deafness or other disability preventing him from serving as a juror, be of good character, and have "a sufficient knowledge of the language in which the proceedings are to be conducted to be able to understand the proceedings."

The legislation does not prescribe how that linguistic competence is to be measured, but the administrative practice has been to exclude from the jury pool those with an educational attainment below Form 7, or its equivalent. The legislation also does not define what constitutes "good character" or "residence" for jury purposes.

The Commission was asked to consider whether the existing criteria for jury service are appropriate, and whether they should be set out with greater clarity and precision.

The report recommends that the minimum age for jury service should be maintained at 21, but that the upper age limit should be raised from 65 to 70. An individual who has attained 65 years of age should, however, be entitled as of right to exemption from jury service if he makes such an application.

The report proposes that, to be eligible for jury service, a person must have been issued with a Hong Kong identity card three years or more prior to his being issued with a notice of jury service and be resident in Hong Kong at the time the notice is issued.

As regards "good character", the report recommends that no person should be eligible for jury service if he or she:

(a) has been convicted at any time in Hong Kong or elsewhere of a criminal offence for which he or she has been sentenced to imprisonment (whether suspended or not) exceeding three months, without the option of a fine;
(b) has been convicted within the previous five years of a criminal offence for which he or she has been sentenced to imprisonment (whether suspended or not) for three months or less;
(c) is awaiting trial for an indictable offence; or
(d) is remanded in custody pending trial for any offence.

A "spent" conviction under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Ordinance (Cap 297) would not be regarded as a criminal conviction for these purposes.

The report rejects the idea of excluding undischarged bankrupts from jury service and considers it would be wrong to automatically characterise undischarged bankrupts as not of "good character."

The LRC does not think it desirable that the existing educational standards required for jury service should be lowered. The LRC proposes that the existing administrative practice of requiring jurors to have attained an education standard of at least Form 7 or its equivalent should be maintained, but that this should be stipulated in legislation. This is to ensure that jurors have the ability to understand and comprehend the evidence and to discharge their duties as jurors properly. However, as a new secondary education structure will be fully implemented by 2012, with a single public examination leading to the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education to be taken at the end of Secondary Six (what is now Form Six), the report proposes that the education standard required of jurors should be completion of (a) Form 7; (b) Secondary Six; (c) the IB Diploma; or (d) such other secondary education as the Registrar of the High Court considers equivalent.

The report recommends that the guiding principles for granting excusals from, or deferrals of, jury service should be set out in the Jury Ordinance and that the justifications should include the fact that:

(i) substantial inconvenience to the public may result;
(ii) undue hardship or undue inconvenience may be caused to the person or any person under his or her care or supervision;
(iii) the person is involved in the administration of justice so that bias may result or may be perceived to result;
(iv)  jury service is incompatible with the person's tenets or beliefs; or
(v) it is in the interests of justice to do so.

The Commission has reviewed the categories of persons who are currently exempt from jury service and has concluded that a number should no longer be exempt, but should instead be able to apply to be excused from jury service in a particular case, or to have their jury service deferred.

Those who should no longer be exempt from jury service include: public officers serving in a training or apprentice rank; editors of daily newspaper in Hong Kong; registered pharmacists; clergymen and those holding similar positions in any congregation or those who are full-time members of any monastery, etc; full-time students; pilots, navigators and wireless operators and other aircraft crew-members; justices of the peace; and the spouses of certain members of the Judiciary. The report proposes that the Registrar of the High Court or trial judge may defer jury service by any persons in these categories, or excuse them from jury service, if satisfied with the merits of their applications.

Press Release (PDF) (MS Word)
Executive Summary (PDF) (MS Word)
Report (PDF) (MS Word)

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