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“It’s not for the NRL to determine guilt or innocence”

These are the words NSW District Court Judge and former Chair of the NRL Judiciary, Paul Conlon, would use in instructing jurors, if he were to look after the Jack de Belin case in court.

A lot has been said this week about his case, as well as that of Cardinal George Pell.

People have discussed and debated at length, the validity of accusations, whether they believe the two men are guilty of the crimes they’ve been charged with or not, and the credibility of witnesses.

But what about the way the legal system work?

In particular, the jury system and court proceedings.

Cardinal George Pell was found guilty by a jury of child sexual abuse in December last year. But some have questioned whether the jurors would have been able to make a decision solely based on the evidence provided in court, that wasn’t influenced by any other commentary or information found online.

So, how seriously do jurors take their duty?

Judge Paul Conlon says jurors do, in fact, take their role very seriously.

“Judges will always direct a jury…that they must scrutinise the evidence of the complainant very carefully before they come to a decision. I believe they follow instructions…they do take their role very seriously.”

John mentions a listener once called in to say she was on the jury of a particular case, where they all believed the defendant was guilty, but ruled not guilty as prosecutors were unable to prove this beyond reasonable doubt.

“I’ve seen examples of that” says Judge Conlon.

In the Pell case, strict suppression orders were in place, preventing the general public from knowing much about the case. But in the case of Jack de Belin, no such order exists.

Headlines have been dominated by stories about the case, leaked witness statements, and commentary from leading figures.

“Some might be able to [switch off] when they listen to a Judge’s direction…but you just don’t know how much impact the media has had.”

Unfortunately, the case isn’t expected to be completed for at least 18 months, which John and Erin both say is too long.

Is this because of the time it takes to complete an investigation? Or is it a sign of a legal system that’s under resourced, and too clogges.

“It’s got nothing to do with the investigation…Some will take a long time but this one would be done and dusted now. The fault lies with the court system.”