18 April, 2014
Something good happens when a group of citizens are brought together to consider a matter of public significance. They act with a sense of responsibility and they come to conclusions which commands respect. We trust juries to act honourably and to do right. Respect for other public institutions has been undermined in recent years, but the standing of the jury has remained unaffected.
The conviction yesterday of two former directors of Anglo-Irish Bank - and the acquittal earlier this week of a third - highlight this enduring effectiveness and credibility of juries. The trial judge in his summing up reminded the jurors, who were brought together in this case, that they were there to decide on the guilt or innocence of the defendents of a limited number of specified crimes - and nothing else. Satisfying public outrage at the the damage done by the collapse of Anglo was not to be considered. The fact that Seanie Fitzpatrick was acquitted, while his name 'enjoyed' much wider public recognition than the other defendants, indicates that the jury was both willing and able to heed what the trial judge had to say.
The banner of the PeopleTalk website carries the phrase - 'citizen juries shaping government.' The jury is the means used by PeopltTalk to promote public sector reform from the perspective of the citizen. That perspective is needed if those at the top - in public service and in politics - are to make fully informed decisions. The objective is reform; the means is the jury. Our elected national political leaders in Dáil Éireann have acknowledged the value this process, as has Galway County Council. When a jury speaks, it commands respect.