Australian National University report casts doubt on CTP citizen's jury
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Australian National University report casts doubt on CTP citizen's jury

A new report has cast doubt on the impartiality of the ACT's first citizen's jury, recommending fundamental changes if the exercise in deliberative democracy ever happens again.

A citizen's jury was convened last year to determine what, if any, changes should be made to the ACT's compulsory third party insurance scheme.

A new report has described the ACT's commitment to deliberative democracy as "commendable" but it says the design of the jury was flawed.

A new report has described the ACT's commitment to deliberative democracy as "commendable" but it says the design of the jury was flawed.Credit:Sitthixay Ditthavong

Trialling deliberative democracy was part of Labor's power-sharing agreement with the Greens and Chief Minister Andrew Barr said the jury would be a "circuit-breaker" after years of failed reforms to the ACT's common law, at-fault scheme.

Report author, Australian National University Associate Professor Dr Ron Levy, said the ACT's commitment to deliberative democracy was "commendable" but the design of the jury was flawed.

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He found the close involvement of expert decision maker's in the jury's deliberation stages risked undermining the autonomy of jurors.

He also found the public framing of the issue favoured abandoning the current model.

Dr Levy said the ACT government had long been on record about wanting to change the CTP scheme and said information on the Your Say website reflected this.

"Since this was one of the options jurors were tasked with considering , this framing undermined the objective of using citizens' juries to depoliticise contentious questions of reform," Dr Levy said.

"The ACT government and its agents should strictly avoid communicating their preferred outcomes of citizen's jury deliberations. The risk of coercing the substance of proceedings potentially undermines the key rationale of creating a citizen's jury as an arm's-length decision-making body."

Dr Levy said the jury's information sessions were "brief by comparison" with other citizen's juries and the scale of the scheme "modest".

He believed this would likely have affected the degree to which jurors developed a "strong command" of the subject matter.

"With a modest learning phase there is potential for experts and other elites to steer proceedings to a greater extent than if CTP citizen jury members were permitted at length to become experts in the subject themselves," Dr Levy wrote.

"This in turn potentially undermines the main rationale of a citizen's jury - that ordinary citizens should take the lead in policy-making, in a democratically robust way, after becoming experts themselves."

Dr Levy pointed to the cost as the reason for the modest size, saying the $2.8 million allotted for the ACT jury paled in comparison to other prominent citizen juries.

He recommended the stakeholder reference group be be less prominent and influential in the process next time, or even omitted outright.

Instead, experts and stakeholder representatives should appear strictly as expert witnesses early in the process.

"Final decision-making should to the extent possible continue to rest with jurors, aided directly by scheme designers and citizen jury facilitators," Dr Levy said.

He said a lengthier and "more elaborate" jury process was preferable, with a more intensive learning phase to get a better grasp on complex CTP issues.

"This may diminish the need for expert bodies such as stakeholder reference group," he said.

"Juror autonomy is a key requirement if citizens' juries are to avoid the perception and reality of external control."

The research was limited by Dr Levy's inability to approach jurors directly, he wrote.

He also said the ACT government and contractor DemocracyCo resisted attempts to scrutinise the citizen jury process, which was detrimental to its overall aim of promoting trust.

Dr Levy's research was prompted by the ACT Law Society, who have launched a media blitz against changing the insurance scheme.

This lead to concerns about bias, Dr Levy said, although his research was "written wholly independent of other parties".

An ACT government spokesman said the reason why the government did not participate in the research was because the citizen's jury would undergo a comprehensive analysis at its conclusion.

"The government welcomes the report's lead recommendations that the planned series of citizens' juries in the ACT is worthwhile and should be continued; the commitment by the ACT to deliberative democracy is commendable; and the ongoing nature of this commitment sets the ACT apart from most other jurisdictions," he said.

Katie Burgess is a reporter for the Canberra Times, covering ACT politics.

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