Jury Service

..Looks like a quiet night. I need to get something off my chest. I have just received a notice from the Juries Commission in Victoria that I am wanted for jury service. It’s one of the letters a busy person dreads. You cannot get out of it, even by paying a fine. And they are relentless in their pursuit if you try to delay – like a dog with a bone.  While jury service may be our civic duty, you would hope that the the courts would give some weight to the level of inconvenience they impose. They might also check their understanding of sampling principles. Let me tell you why.

Around two hundred potential jurors will have to attend the supreme court on the appointed day, even though they ultimately need only a fraction of them. I know this because the person on the phone said I have a small chance of actually being chosen for the jury. But I have to hang around for two days while they decide. There will be a random ballot and some selection procedure based on visual appearance rather than interview to obtain the jurors required.

Do they really need two hundred people for two days? How about allowing challenges before we turn up?  Many challenges are based on demographic information that is available to the court and does not require the potential jurors attendance. You would just receive a letter that you had been selected as a potential juror, and then challenged, and told to get on with your life.

One also wonders why N=200 are required.  How many should they call? Well, if p is the historical proportion of selected jurors that survive the challenge procedure, and J jurors are required, then N=J/p should just about do it. And if you are worried that this number might be insufficient then you can add in a bit of padding and/or bring in some reserve jurors the next day. Once you assign cost to a potential juror’s day and a cost to a day of court procedure, this is a pretty easy optimisation problem. As it is, we have 200 people lose at least one day which must be valued at around $50,000 or so. But this cost is born by the jurors and their employers, not the court.

So by receiving the letter it looks like I will lose two days at the very least. Is this fair? Well, we might say it is fair if people are chosen randomly.  According to the court:

Potential jurors are randomly selected from the Victorian Electoral Roll. A number of random processes are used throughout the jury selection process in order to produce a representative cross-section of the community. Every person over the age of 18, from all sections of the community have an equal chance of being called upon to do jury service.

I am suspicious about the effectiveness of their sampling. During the first six months of this year, there have been 5 academics (out of about 40) from Melbourne Business School summoned! Unless they are calling tens of thousands of people, there is no way that is “random” in the sense that a pollster would understand it.

The outcome has the appearance of some kind of sequential sampling from a list that has been sorted by geography – like an electoral roll. An extreme example would be to randomly sample phone numbers in consecutive order – just work your way through the phone book and toss a coin for each person to see if you summon them. This is random and it also gives everybody (with a phone) the same chance of being a juror. But the sampling is not independent – you can end up with sets of similar people on the jury. Imagine that you get to the 9349xxxx section of the phone book (which is what MBS phone numbers start with). I wonder how much respect the public will have in the notion of  “a jury of your peers” if these peers end up being a bunch of middle aged business professors!

While the court’s understanding of sampling seems dodgy, some readers might be thinking the same thing about me. I have chosen to report the statistic “5 MBS academics out of 40 in a half year” after the fact. If there were only 1 person summoned then I would not have reported it. This is the same kind of reporting bias that we face in assessing clustering of disease. It would actually be surprising if clustering of some disease did not occur somewhere. But when you see the cluster post hoc, it looks significant.

In my case, such selection/reporting bias would be most problematic if everybody in Australia had a blog and could report such an occurrence. You might then expect such a concentration somewhere in a given (half) year. But only a small proportion of people are bloggers. From the point of view of you gentle readers, the relevant blogging population is those who post at this site. The chance of one of us experiencing such a summons concentration if sampling is truly random is, I would have thought, pretty small. But to answer for sure I would need to know the total number of summons in a year and the numbers on the electoral roll. It may turn out that “5 MBS academics out of 40 in a half year” is consistent with a sensible sampling scheme, but I doubt it.

But there is a much less debatable point about the sampling that I want to make. If I am unlucky, I will be one of those chosen to actually sit in court. I will then be exempt for three years only….after which my name is added to the pool to be randomly sampled. But hold on…the purpose of random sampling is to give everybody an equal chance of being selected. This is desirable to spread the burden evenly and also to make the jury representative. No problem with the aims. But if I have already served once why do I get another chance? Surely I should wait until every eligible person in Victoria has served, before I am punished summoned again.

It seems that the courts have never heard of sampling without replacement.

What is the chance of being called twice I hear you cry? Well, yours truly already served in 2002 as a juror on a murder trial. While it provided me with some interesting stories for dinner parties and probability lectures,  I did lose three weeks of my life, never to be regained. The case was in NSW which, under their rules, exempts me for 8 years. But since the case was in NSW, it has no effect on my eligibility in Victoria. It is a separate jurisdiction. Another example of the our federal system at work.

Now a wise but cynical person once defined a jury to be 

a group of twelve people of average ignorance, chosen to decide who has the best lawyer.

Harsh perhaps, but not indefensibe. Perhaps this might explain why jurors are paid only $36 per day, and why no lunch is provided. That’s correct. The supreme court can not find the spare cash to provide the jury a decent meal. No wonder those 12 guys look so angry.

 

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Ken Parish
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Ken Parish(@ken-parish)
13 years ago

I’d volunteer in your place if I could Chris, because from my perspective it would be fascinating to serve on a jury. Unfortunately lawyers aren’t allowed to sit on juries. Pity.

david tiley
13 years ago

I know someone who went in to do her jury duty on a Monday morning and came back to the world one year and three months later. Russell St bombing.

She eventually gave up her former profession and retrained as a criminologist.

conrad
conrad
13 years ago

Seems like a good reason not to enroll to vote if you can lose a year of your life — too bad you can’t get off the roll. I can just imagine what it would do to my department if someone was called up on relatively short notice and they taught one of the things no-one else can or supervised a large number of postgraduate students (the word disaster comes to mind).

Incidentally, everyone is always suspicious of the randomness of the selection (including in other types of random number generation) — it’s a good cognitive illusion.

Sinclair Davidson
13 years ago

Surely you protest too much. I paid my income tax last year and have received no exemptions at all – indeed will have to pay again and again. And don’t get me started on voting – every three years, like I have nothing else to do on a Saturday. :)

Having lived in a country where there is no trial by jury (because juries only benefit the guilty) we should be grateful for legal niceties like this. Similarly, having a jury of middle-aged business academics (all sorts of disclaimers and diclosures should be inserted here) might be prefereable to having a jury of individuals who have no oppourtunity costs on their time.

Jeremy
Jeremy
13 years ago

Likewise Ken.

Although I think it’s fairly insulting to pay jurors $36 a day – that’s below minimum wage! If you’re going to force ordinary members of the community to give up their time, don’t punish them by making them starve as well.

As for the spare cash – well, you could ask Rob Hulls since he’s ultimately responsible for funding the court, but he’d probably just point behind you and yell “Look! A barrister earning $14,000 a day!” And when you said “Where?” and turned back around, he’d have vanished.

steve at the pub
13 years ago

Turn up with the grimmest visage you can produce.

Whenever addressed (even when asked for your name by a clerk) announce that you can always tell guilty people “just by lookin’ at ’em!”

david tiley
13 years ago

First, you can try and offer an excuse to the tipstaff, and in Victoria at least they tend to be reasonable, which is code for “you can go if you are really busy and have a prosperous job”.

Then you have the beauty parade, where the defence can dump a number of people for no reason at all. The ostentatiously middle class, the pompous, the reactionary, the hostile, the self-important are all likely to be dumped. A defence lawyer wants someone who will bond with the accused, and/or someone who can be easily confused.

Lawyers don’t articulate their reasons in public, of course. And that mousy person with the wet, pleading eyes can turn out to be a religious maniac who believes guilt shines through auras and listening to the evidence only gets in the way of the psychic transmission..

But you can see why the majority of people on juries have routine jobs, or are intermittently employed, are retired, are pensioners or students.

In other words, ordinary people – which is the whole point, isn’t it? Better that than a bunch who are busy thinking “I decide the fate of thousands before breakfast, and my titanic intellect should give me the answer by the end of the day.”

By and large, I think the system sorts jurors so that they end up being the ones who want to be there. Of course that includes a bunch whose absence is really noticed, but feel curious and/or socially responsible.

If you are ever really desperate to get out of jury duty, there is one sure fire thing you can say: “Sorry, I am too deaf to hear you”.

Chris lloyd
Chris lloyd
13 years ago

Thanks for the tips Steve and David.

Darlene
13 years ago

“Getting out of jury duty is easy. The trick is to say you’re prejudiced against all races” – Homer Simpson

Niall
13 years ago

I was called up in 1985. Three times in that year, to be exact. My employer wasn’t impressed and neither was I, given that I wasted two days each time, was challenged and dismissed each time. Oddly, that was in Mackay, North Queensland. I’ve lived at the one address in Brisbane now for ten years and never been called upon since 1985. It’s a perverse system, no mistake.

Mark U
Mark U
13 years ago

It’s a chance to brush up on your Sudoku!

Bill Posters
Bill Posters
13 years ago

First point:

Do they really need two hundred people for two days?

Yes. The jury pool is used both for Supreme and County Court trials, per Ma href=”http://www.courts.vic.gov.au/CA256EBD007FC352/page/Jury+Service-Attendance?OpenDocument&1=50-Jury+Service~&2=40-Attendance~&3=~”>here:

In Melbourne there may be as many as 12 courts needing juries each day

Second point:

While the courts understanding of sampling seems dodgy, some readers might be thinking the same thing about me

Indeed they would. You’ve provided no evidence about how many jurors are actually called each half-year, so there’s no way of checking how unusual the situation you describe actually is.

david tiley
13 years ago

Apropos my first comment above: Nick Gruen asked me to check the facts of the case, rather than rely on my memory. I was wrong. Walsh Street not Russell, three months not one year and three months. Criminology course, true.

Curses. Did I conflate two stories, or just pump the whole thing up in my fevered imagination? Both, probably.

The jury duty stuff I am more confident about. I wrote the instructional video.

david tiley
13 years ago

And to go one stage further – within a matter of weeks after finishing that job, I was called up for jury duty. I forgot to go, and they never pursued me. Have they got something in their computer? Am I labelled “mate of the firm, do not chase?” or “complete nitwit, stay away”? Or indeed, “too deaf to do the gig”, which is probably true.

Chris lloyd
Chris lloyd
13 years ago

Bill,

Re the 200, I was arguing that most of the challenges should be made without requiring attendance – so that the remaining folks who are summoned are more likely to actually serve. But why shoould the court give a shit about wasting my time? It costs them nothing.

Regarding your second point: “Youve provided no evidence about how many jurors are actually called each half-year, so theres no way of checking how unusual the situation you describe actually is…” this is explicitly acknowledge in the post. But common sense suggests that the proportion of the Victorian electoral roll that are called in any half year would be very small, don’t you agree? Say it is 1% (which is 50,000 people which is way too high). Then the probability of 5 people out of 40 being called is microscopic. But this is not a fair calculation because I am reporting the statistic after the fact. All the other groups of 40 people in Victoria who were not called are not reported in the blog. This is the dodgy sampling that I was suggesting readers might accuse me of.

FDB
FDB
13 years ago

I was re-sampled (in WA) less than 12 months after serving on a murder trial. It was actually pretty traumatic, and I wasn’t really up to going again yet.

Still, it surprises me how many otherwise good citizens just want to get out of it. If you’d seen and heard 10 of the other 11 folks on my jury, you’d know it’s pretty important to have intelligent, thoughtful people there. In whose number I count myself of course.

dr faustus
13 years ago

From memory, in Victoria your employer is supposed to pay you the difference between what you get for being a juror and what you’d normally earn, so you as a juror are not supposed to bear the financial burden for serving. In practice, I don’t know how many employers actually do what they’re supposed to, or whether they get punished for not doing so.

Dave Bath
13 years ago

Other ways….
(1) Breastfeed your kid for longer…. but this plays havoc with gender balance of juries.
(2) Get a chronic illness (overload on sugar so you get diabetes and have to go to the toilet all the time… bash your head until you become epileptic and suffer partial seizures so you cannot be guaranteed to know what is going on)

Mind you, juries in ancient athens typically had 101 or 201 members. They were paid a couple of obols a day… a meagre but survivable amount like a pension, and usually taken up by the senior citizens who were getting a bit to rickety for full-time work.

Nabakov
Nabakov
13 years ago

I’m not quite sure why so many here are so irritated by the idea of getting fingered for jury duty. Sure it well can turn out to be a boring and inconvenient chore but I regard that as a frequently rare price that all of us should be willing to pay for a justice system that we all often boast about as a glory of Western civilisation.

If you have the right to trial by a jury of your peers, then equally you have the responsibility to front up when tapped yourself.

Yes, it’s not perfect but can any suggest a more perfect (sic) alternative?

JM
JM
13 years ago

Just to add my experience to this – I’ve been on the jury list exactly twice. Once about 30 years ago when I was sitting my final exams (so I was able to get an exemption), and the second time a couple of years ago.

That time round I noticed I was eligible for an exemption (small business owner, work as a contractor, just started a new engagement) but I didn’t bother to apply.

I was on the list for a year, but didn’t get called. There’s something seriously wrong here.

Chris Lloyd
Chris Lloyd
13 years ago

Nabakov: “….a justice system that we all often boast about as a glory of Western civilisation.” Who exactly makes this boast? certainly, not me after having been a juror. In any case, the post is not about whether we should have juries, but whether the system of selecting jurors is fair and reasonable.

Aidan
Aidan
13 years ago

I was about to post a “quite yer moaning!” reaction when I read Chris’ last comment (#21) and realised he was right. If we want jury service to be regarded as positively as possible it would be good if the process was as fair, transparent and painless as possible.

We don’t have to assume that they way it is done presently is the best, or even nearly optimal. The jurors typically spend alot of time sitting around waiting for something to happen that suits the time management of a judge and a couple of lawyers. Perhaps the lawyers amongst us could comment on how this situation might be improved?

When I did my jury duty most of the others who were sitting in the room were eventually dismissed because some sort of plea-bargain had been struck. They had been sitting in a room for a number of hours for no reason. Most were relieved not to have been required, but couldn’t it be better than this?

13th but Angry
13th but Angry
13 years ago

The first time I got called up, I copped a murder trial and got locked away for 3 weeks. Then I got called up again within 6 months of that one finishing! So got an exemption. Thankfully I haven’t been called up since.

Fred Ward
Fred Ward
11 years ago

I reckon if jurors knew what was in this clip, it would change the way they looked at the courts.