Citizens' Juries are an innovative and exciting approach to gaining public input into complex policy decisions. Since the 1970's there has been a widespread practice of Citizens' Juries in the United States and Germany. More recently, they are now being used extensively in the United Kingdom and Australia (Coote & Lenaghan, 1997).
In a Citizens' Jury, a group of 12-20 randomly chosen citizens are asked to deliberate on a particular issue or issues of public importance, whether it is the setting of a policy agenda or the choice of particular policy options. The Citizens' Jury lasts for a period of a few days during which participants are given detailed information about the issue, hear a wide range of views from witnesses (or expert presenters), and are given the opportunity to cross-examine the witnesses and ask for any additional information deemed necessary. So named because of their apparent similarity with a 'legal' jury, a Citizens' Jury exhibits fundamental differences from this more traditional form. The most identifiable difference can be found at the conclusion of the Citizens' Jury whereby rather than reach a consensus regarding a guilty or not guilty verdict, the jury is asked to provide a series of recommendations concerning the issue. Consensus is encouraged but not forced.
Citizens' Juries have been run to consider a wide range of ethical and social questions, as well as on a wide range of policy areas including local planning; energy; technology and communication; the environment and transport. They are a method of public consultation designed to incorporate the views of the community into the decision-making process. The main aim of any Citizens' Jury is to build the habit of active citizenship (Stewart, 1990).