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Citizens’ jury commences in Canberra

Danielle Meddemmen

17 June 2021: A University of Canberra partnership will host two dozen ordinary Australian citizens this week, to debate one of science’s most topical questions – should human genome editing be permitted?

The collaboration with the University of Tasmania’s Centre for Law and Genetics will see participants form a citizens’ jury to debate the method, used to alter the DNA of organisms including plants, animals and bacteria.

Lead researcher, Professor John Dryzek from the University of Canberra’s Centre for Deliberative Democracy and Global Governance (CDDGG), said the citizens’ jury model could be effective in influencing policy on controversial issues.

“These juries are made up of citizens with no history of activism on an issue. It means they are good at reflecting on the relative weight of different values and principles,” he said.

“Think of how we trust juries in court cases to reach good judgements. Deliberation is a particularly good way to harness the wisdom of crowds. It enables participants to piece together, in constructive and considered fashion, the different bits of information that they hold.”

Participants will be tasked with considering ethical, legal and scientific considerations on the controversial topic, hearing from advocates and experts before entering a deliberation period.

The jury will meet from 18 to 21 June, in the beginning of a series of global citizens’ juries on genome editing, to be consolidated into a global citizens’ assembly in 2022.

The University of Canberra’s Dr Nicole Curato, a fellow leading researcher for the initiative, said the event would be an informative starting point for further deliberative democracy.

“The opportunity to see the jury process in action is fantastic. It will give us a real-world opportunity to test our procedures and methods and tweak them, if necessary, for next time,” she said.

“I’m confident that citizens’ juries will soon become a standard part of the way Australian governments arrive at policy positions.”

The citizen’s jury will convene at the Museum of Australian Democracy (MoAD) and will be featured in a three-part documentary from filmmakers Genepool Productions, in association with December Media.

More information on the citizens’ jury and documentary is available online.