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FDHs qualified for jury service, Justice Dept clarifies

05 November 2020

By The SUN

Jury trials are currently held at the High Court and Coroner's Court

All Hong Kong residents, including foreign domestic helpers, are legally bound to render jury service as long as they meet the criteria set for the role, according to the Department of Justice.   

A DOJ spokesman made the statement in reply to a query from The SUN after repeated inquiries from Filipina helpers who recently received notices from the High Court Jury Service requiring them to enlist as jurors.

“The Jury Ordinance, Cap. 3 provides that a person is liable to serve as a juror if he/she meets the qualifications stipulated therein. Those qualifications include being a resident of Hong Kong and having sufficient knowledge of the language in which the proceedings are to be conducted,” the spokesman said.

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“Foreign domestic helpers, as a class, are not exempt from juror service and it is our understanding that a Notice of Jury Service would be served on them as it would be on others who meet the section 4 requirements and are not exempt under section 5 under the existing mechanism in compiling the list of jurors,” he said.

Most of the enquiries came from FDWs who became apprehensive after receiving the  letter from the Registrar of Jury Service. Most did not know what the role of the jury entailed, and wanted to know how they should respond to the notice.

The letter informed the FDHs that they would be included in the list of jurors unless they notified the Registrar within 14 days that they should be exempt from jury service under sections 4 or 5 of the Jury Ordinance.

 

Notice of jury service sent to one Filipino domestic worker

Section 4 sets out the qualifications of jurors, such as (1) being of sound mind and not affected by disabilities such as blindness or deafness; (2) aged no less than 21 and not more than 64 years old; (3) of good character; and (4) having sufficient knowledge of the language to be used in the court proceedings.

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Section 5 lists down the jobs or professions of those exempt from jury service, such as members of the Executive or Legislative Council, judges and officers of tribunals, lawyers and journalists.

Most of the letter recipients eventually said they wrote to the Registrar asking to be exempted because they felt they were not well versed in either English or Cantonese, the two languages used in court proceedings.

Others said they could not leave their employers’ houses on weekdays because they had to look after children or elderly wards, or those who are sick and cannot be left by themselves.

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Milane Balzon, a helper who responded to the notice and applied to be registered as a juror, received a follow-up letter from the High Court registrar asking her to submit a copy of her passport.

Initially she was excited about the notice, but her employers mistakenly told her she was not qualified because she was not a resident.

Malabo po na papayag sila, kasi sila pa po ang nagsabi sa akin na di puwede iyon dahil kasi di ako resident dito,” a dejected Balzon said, adding they should know because their son is a lawyer.

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The DOJ spokesman said those who wish to find out more about the practice in compiling the list of jurors may consult the Law Reform Commission’s report on “Criteria for service as jurors”.

He said parts of the LRC Report’s Chapter 1 are devoted to an examination of the system through which the current legal framework operates.

While the report has no specific recommendations as regards any policy on the inclusion of FDHs as potential jurors, there are detailed provisions under section 28 of the Jury Ordinance that deal with exemption from juror service or removal of names from the list of jurors for valid reasons, the spokesman said

It appears that enlisting the FDHs for two types of functions, as jurors in High Court jury trials and in a Coroner Court inquest, is a new development in Hong Kong. Previously, the jurors were mostly local men and women of various occupations and professions.

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