Say what you like

I have to confess in the citizen of the year awards I’m a bit of a slacker.

I have been called up for Jury service 3 times in 7 years (with a 2 year reprieve from being called again after each time of being excused) and have never actually served. I began to think that there were very few of us who had never served prison time or were not mentally infirm who were actually resident in Whangarei. If I’d had the same luck with random selection of my number with Lotto then I’d never need to work again and therefore could actually afford to do jury service.

For small business owners serving on a jury can be an expensive option when you’re in the early stages and not even drawing a wage. Jurors get paid about $30 for a half day in court which pays for the espressos to keep you awake while wading through all the evidence. If however, you have to pay someone a couple of hundred dollars a day to take over running the business while you’re gone, doing your bit as a citizen starts to look like financial suicide.

There are more than a few problems with being a juror in New Zealand. Trying to pretend that there will be a select few individuals who know little or nothing about cases that have been played out in the media long before the trial, and can therefore pass impartial judgement is naive. New Zealand is one big small town. On Sunday I was at Waipu and met a woman from Wellington. I asked her if she knew a woman I’d been friends with about 20 years ago and whom I’d had no contact with for over 15. She did. That’s how small it is. I still remember a Burmese woman grieving for the demise of her minority ethnic group living in the jungles of Thailand. ‘There are only 3 million of us left’ she wept. I was going to feel sorry for her when I realised that the whole of New Zealand had the same population.

In a small town like Whangarei this means that more often than not most people will have heard or know something about the case in front of them. Most jurors I think, would be big enough to put that aside and make up their own minds based on what is presented to them in court.

In cases that have generated huge media interest you would have to select the entire jury from NZ resident Tibetan monks who have spent the last 10 years meditating in caves in order to find someone who hadn’t read or heard a considerable amount about the case. Which is why, I can’t understand Tony Veitch threatening to take Willie Jackson to court in a libel case. Surely being tacitly endorsed by a TV company in the form of being given high profile work is more prejudicial in favour of Veitch than a talk back host shooting his mouth off on air. That’s what talk back hosts do.

I hardly think that’s going to sway a jury any more than the fact that we can now see Veitch on our TV screens again as an entrenched part of NZ’s media scene.

If Veitch had chosen to stay behind the scenes and accept a job working in the media away from the public eye then perhaps Willie Jackson’s outburst could be seen as libellous – but TV Sports commentators carry the same street cred in New Zealand as newsreaders. A point Veitch’s bevy of PR people and lawyers would not have been unaware of.

While Willie may have given his opinion in his usual gun-slinging- open- day- on – the –shooting- range style, it doesn’t detract from the fact that he does have a valid point.

Surely the capacity to express it shouldn’t be subject to the size of your personal PR team or your ability to fund the lawyer’s bills.

The jurors are going to see Veitch on TV and are probably going to hear what is in the chatter of the press regardless because NZ is one big small town.

Let jurors make up their own minds.

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