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News / June 3, 2008

Are dentists set to widen the jury pool?

by Guy Hiscott

Dentists in Northern Ireland look likely to lose their automatic exemption from jury duty, with the Northern Ireland Court Service proposing to widen the jury pool to achieve what the Service is calling a true representation of society in Northern Ireland.

Dentists are currently exempt under the Juries (Northern Ireland) Order 1996, along with a multitude of other professional groups including nurses, doctors and pharmacists.

It is proposed that, by and large, no-one should automatically be ineligible or excusable from jury service simply because of his or her job, unless there is good reason.

The current system of specifying categories of people as disqualified or excusable as of right from jury service would therefore be replaced, with some exceptions, by a system of discretionary deferral or excusal. Under the new system, any person called for jury service could apply to have his or her service deferred or excused and all such applications would be assessed against published criteria and guidelines.

The Minister for the Northern Ireland Court Service, the Rt Hon. David Hanson MP, commented: ‘Everyone has something unique to bring to a jury – his or her own experiences and knowledge. Expanding the pool of potential jurors will ensure that juries are not deprived of the broad range of skills and experience to be found in the community.

‘When a jury reaches a verdict, it is not only making a decision that affects the individual defendant, it is also making a decision that affects society at large. It is for this reason that the Government regards jury service as one of the most important civic duties that anyone can be asked to perform. Few decisions made by members of the public have such an impact as a jury’s verdict.

‘I welcome the proposals and I would urge all with an interest to contribute to this important consultation.’

A full copy of the consultation document is available on the Northern Ireland Court Service website at