Thousands more to be called for jury service in Northern Ireland

Thousands more to be called for jury service in Northern Ireland

Naomi Long

Thousands more people will be called for jury service in Northern Ireland this year in anticipation of a greater number of applications for excusal or deferral because of the pandemic.

Some 40,300 people will be called for jury service this year, a 16 per cent increase on the 34,700 called last year, justice minister Naomi Long told MLAs yesterday.

Mrs Long ruled out calls for the jury service exemption criteria to be amended in response to labour shortages caused by a high number of Covid-19 cases, pointing out this would require primary legislation.

However, she said jury officers and courts “can be expected to sympathetically consider requests for excusal or deferral from key workers during the current pandemic”, and that they would likely “look favourably” on people who can provide them with “evidence of particular pressures in their workplace”.

Mrs Long said the criminal justice system has “not had a problem with filling jury places in order for trials to commence”, but noted that only shorter jury trials have been scheduled in recentw eeks.

The Office of the Lady Chief Justice had decided against starting new trials involving multiple defendants and likely to run over multiple weeks and months because of the increased risk of Covid-19 disruption.

Mrs Long said: “Making those scheduling decisions is always a matter for the Office of the Lady Chief Justice, but it is clear from what the Lady Chief Justice has said that it will be kept under review to ensure that there is no increased delay in the court system.

“At the moment, the biggest threat to recovery for the court system is lack of investment when it comes to our budget for next year. Obviously, recovery will not be completed this year, yet nothing in next year’s draft budget will allow for further recovery in the courts.”

Share icon
Share this article: