Call to raise jury service pay amid concerns on limiting representation

  • 02/04/2024

There's concern the low pay for jury service is limiting the section of society represented on the panels.

Jury service is seen as a civic duty and one of the pillars of a democratic society, but it's sparked questions about whether $62 a day is enough incentive for Kiwis to give up work – for days and sometimes weeks - to attend.

University of Auckland law professor Mark Henaghan told AM the rate hasn't changed since 2004.

He joked that $62 was enough for a cup of coffee and croissant in Auckland's Parnell but not much more.

"When you compare it with the $23 an hour for the minimum wage, over a six-hour day it's about $10 an hour," he said.

New Zealand's not alone, though.

Prof Henaghan said the pay is low around other parts of the world – the reason is because it's a civic duty.

He said in the US it is NZ$25 and in Scotland, you don't get paid at all other than travel costs and childcare.

"But all the research shows that most jurors think it's far too low.

"Research shown by the Law Commission showed some people did suffer financial harm."

It's raised questions about whether employers should step up – and in some cases, they may do so voluntarily – or if it's the Government's responsibility. 

Prof Henaghan believes it's for the Government.

"It's a taxpayer thing, they're doing a public good, I mean, the system can't run without juries," he said.

"It's fundamental, they have the most important job."

Prof Henaghan said it was "an old tradition" for jurors to be volunteering time and he reckons it's time to change.

"I think it's reached the stage now with the cost of living we have to make adjustments."

But the problem runs deeper, with Prof Henaghan adding it limits the kind of people serving on juries.

"We're only getting a certain section [of society] who can afford to be there and that's not right, I mean, a jury should represent all sectors of our society and I think it needs to be explored.

"It shouldn't just be those who can afford to do it, it should be those who represent everyone else. That's the most important thing for juries."

Prof Henaghan pointed to Hong Kong paying about $212 a day, saying the nation recognises the value of jurors. 

"I think we should really recognise the jury, I mean, it's horrendous sitting through a murder trial – all those pictures you have to look at, they're horrific if you've ever seen some of the pictures in a murder trial.

"And they have to sit there for two, sometimes three weeks, take it all in and make the most important decision in the particular case.

"So, I think as a society we should recognise them more… we should give them a standing ovation as they leave the room when they've made their decision because basically, they've done the most important job for our society."

Prof Henaghan also said those who are paid well would take the role more seriously.

"Cut a person's pay in half, they don't feel very valued."

Justice Minister Paul Goldsmith told Newshub juror fees "are not a replacement for a juror's wages".

"Some employers make up the difference between a juror's attendance fee and the employee's normal rate of pay. However, there is no obligation on the employer to do this," he said.

"The Government is currently focused on its new action plan, and there are no current plans to make adjustments to the jury rates. It is something, however, that we could consider in the future."