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Justice system benefits from the presence of Christians on juries

By Susan Gately - 04 May, 2019

As the 15-week trial of Patrick Quirke came to a close earlier this week, with the announcement of a majority verdict convicting him, another jury came together for the trial of two teenagers accused of murdering Ana Kriegel.

Every day several hundred people show up for jury service in Dublin and other major Irish cities to try criminal and some civil cases, fulfilling a civic duty which can be arduous.

The number of people not attending for jury service has decreased in recent years. A review of jury duty by the Courts Service shows that non-attendance for jury service in Dublin was approximately 34 per cent in 2003; by 2017, it had fallen below 10 per cent.

A spokesman for the Courts Service told CatholicIreland.net that there was a long tradition of public and community service in Ireland.

“Courts and the process of justice have benefited from the willingness of most citizens to undertake their civic duties. The figures show the vast majority of those summonsed for jury service respond and show up,” the spokesman said.

Priests, nuns and religious are automatically exempt from jury service. It is believed that when the law was drawn up they were seen, like vets, doctors, nurses and others, as being essential personnel who could not be absent from work. However, many people still try to legitimately be excused from jury service.

Dr Thomas Finegan, a lecturer in theology at Mary Immaculate College in Limerick, told CatholicIreland.net that there is little in the way of authoritative Church teaching on the issue of jury service.

“To avoid jury [service] in a morally justified way one needs a good reason for the avoidance,” he said. “Good excuses are provided for in the legislation pertaining to jury services, and the county registrar will acknowledge good reasons not explicitly provided for in the legislation.

“We owe cooperation to our justice system, which itself is basically sound in terms of its architecture – and in any case there exists a distinct, defensible duty to obey the law.”

Dr Finegan said it was important for Christians to do jury service where they can. “It is important to have people of good will and sound mind on juries. Christians enlivened by faith and charity have access to moral truths largely inaccessible to others, but these particular moral truths seem superfluous to the reasoning and decisions jurors must engage in.

“However, Christians enlivened by faith and charity are to that extent of better will and sounder mind than those who aren’t, so for that reason the justice system benefits from the presence of genuine Christians on jury service.”

Dr Finegan said that while there were more important faith and ethical issues facing Christians than whether or not to try to avoid jury service, nonetheless he did detect “genuine confusion among Catholics on the issues of what we do and do not owe to the state, so perhaps Church teaching could engage more with the question of jury service as part of a wider teaching moment.”

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