Alice Springs news
Alice Springs news; NewspaperNT
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Community newspspers; Australia, Central; Alice Springs (N.T.); Newspapers
v. 17 issue 34
Copyright. Made available by the publisher under licence.
Aboriginal people make up around 21% of the local population but never constitute a similar proportion on jury panels. The Full Court in Darwin began considering submissions from defence and prosecution counsel regarding this issue on Tuesday as the Alice News went to press. The trial start date had been put back to September 27 (next Monday) but, depending on the Full Courts decision, could be further delayed as the court is being asked to consider whether the jury panel that has been summoned should be discharged and the trial adjourned in order to secure the mens right to a fair trial. If this were to happen it would also impact on other jury trials. Justice John Reeves, hearing the accused mens application in Alice Springs last week, lifted a suppression order put in place earlier by Justice Jenny Blokland. She had heard in July applications on behalf of the accused to move the trial from Alice Springs to Darwin on the grounds that there was a risk that they would not receive a fair trial if the jury were drawn from Alice Springs. Justice Blokland declined to change the venue of the trial (see separate article for her reasons). Both Mr Woods and Mr Williams have pleaded not guilty to murder. The application heard last week raised in part questions of abuse of process in relation to the selection of juries, although there was no suggestion that the Sheriff, who conducts the selection, had acted for an improper motive. Issues included the order in which the selection is made, and the procedure of sending the list of potential jurors to the police who strike out disqualified people (see separate article for detail on the procedures). The court did not hear evidence regarding these questions but did hear that a meeting of judges in Darwin on September 14 had given the Sheriff various directions in relation to how he would conduct the jury array in the future. The application also raised questions of law in relation to the Juries Act and its consistency with the Australian Constitution and the Racial Discrimination Act. The Crown summarised the basis of the defences concerns as to do with: the Alice Springs jury list being drawn only from the municipality of Alice Springs and not from the broader southern region of the NT; the broad disqualification provisions regarding those who have committed criminal offences; the disqualification of people who cannot read, write and speak English with proficiency. All these matters together preclude an appropriate proportional representation of Aboriginal people on jury panels which deprives the accused of a fair trial, according to the Crowns summary of the defence case. Under the Juries Act, people who have committed a criminal offence and been sentenced to a term of imprisonment have to have completed their entire sentence, including any part of it served in the community, more than seven years ago before they can qualify as jurors. The Full Court, with Acting Chief Justice Mildren and Justices Reeves and Blokland presiding, is now being asked to consider whether the Juries Act is invalid because of its inconsistency with the Racial Discrimination Act 1975, in that in its operation it infringes the right in Article 5(a) of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and infringes s80 of the Constitution (which concerns the right to trial by jury). What both sides agreed on Here in summary is how the jury selection for the current sittings in Alice Springs worked, based on the agreed facts before the Full Court this week: The Sheriff estimated that 150 jurors would be needed for the September sittings. 350 people were randomly selected from the annual jury list drawn from the electoral roll for the Alice Springs municipality. SAFE NT, a division of Police, Fire and Emergency Services, cross referenced the selection in order to disqualify persons by virtue of a relevant term of imprisonment or exempt them (for example, lawyers, pastors and police officers are exempt). This eliminated 91 people. The Sheriff added 34 people who had previously deferred their jury service, which took the list to 291 persons, who were summonsed by posted letter. In all of these procedures there is no specific information about whether or not people are Aboriginal. When they came to court a Deputy Sheriff assisted those deemed to not adequately speak, read and write English to be excused, although it is contended that the Deputy Sheriffs are not expressly authorised to do that. Of relevance: Of the list of 291, only 14 people had addresses in town camps.