A ‘Citizens’ Jury’ is a group of people randomly invited from the electoral roll to form a jury – not unlike a jury in a criminal trial. These citizens are presented with evidence from independent experts, as well as advocates if they wish, so they can decide on the issue based on the best available evidence.
The use of Citizens’ Juries is often called deliberative or participatory democracy, reflecting the process of citizen engagement and deliberation that makes this method of decision making so different from the politics we see around us.
It is a model of democracy in which citizens have the power to make political decisions. In short, it is a way to get people back into the political process, and a way of getting government to engage with real community concerns.
A Citizen’s Jury on assisted dying on the island of Jersey agreed that assisted dying should be allowed under stringent safeguards, and the 2021 election manifesto of the Scottish National Party undertook to hold a Citizens’ Assembly on assisted dying. Ireland held one in the run up to the referendum on the repeal of their abortion laws. Iceland used the same process to help rewrite its Constitution after the GFC crashed its economy.
There are a growing number of Citizens’ Juries taking place in Australia across a range of issues. For example, in Western Australia a Citizens’ Jury was employed on the placement of a highway slip road, and in Victoria they have been used to discuss infrastructure and planning issues. Perhaps the best publicised Citizens’ Jury was held in South Australia in 2016 when the Premier Jay Weatherill was planning to create a dump in SA for international nuclear waste. The Citizens’ Jury rejected the government’s proposal, and to its credit the government shelved the project.
How does it work?
A Citizens’ Jury is formed by randomly selecting a cross-section of the affected community. Some minor adjustment is made to ensure the selection represents that community fairly – eg not all elderly white males, for example. Information is presented to the group from independent experts, such as scientists in the case of climate change. The process may also be professionally facilitated. It allows the jury to drill down into the issues, review the relevant facts, explore available policy options, and recommend solutions that serve the public good and not just the interests of particular stakeholders.
The use of such juries and larger ‘citizen assemblies’ is related to the tradition of deliberative democracy, which originated in ancient Greece. While elements of this tradition survived in governance in various communities in Europe until recent times (as late as 1800 in Venice, for example), its main legacy is the criminal jury in the western legal system. Their modern revival started in the 1980s (see the link above), and in recent years they have emerged as a credible way of rescuing democracy from the abuses and corruption that has led to many citizens losing faith in politics as it is now practised.
What are examples of potential Citizens’ Juries topics in Tasmania?
What do we want for the future of our seas and oceans? How do we balance looking after the marine environment, addressing the needs of industry, and still support community use of our waterways?
How should we punish people who commit crimes? What are the models of incarceration that are effective for both the perpetrators and the community?
What should our energy future look like? How do we transition fossil fuel industry workers into a renewable energy workforce?