The Act provided for women aged between 25 and 60 to have their names placed on the jury list on the same basis as men – if they so desired. New Zealand’s first female juror was Miss Elaine R. Kingsford, who sat on a case at the Auckland Supreme Court in 1943. Interviewed by a National Film Unit crew, she raised the possibility that one day there might even be women judges – a thoroughly radical idea at that time.
The introduction of women jurors was one of a number of important milestones for New Zealand women in the 1940s which were in part driven by the demands of war and the absence of servicemen overseas. The first women police officers completed their training in October 1941. In June 1945 Mary Anderson, who had been a Justice of the Peace since 1943, became reputedly the first woman in New Zealand to sit on a Magistrate’s Court bench. In January 1946 she and former Member of the House of Representatives Mary Dreaver were the first women to be appointed to the Legislative Council.
Relatively few women took up the opportunity to serve on juries in the 1940s and 1950s. In 1963 the Act was amended to include the names of all adult women on the jury list, with an absolute right of withdrawal. Later changes standardised the jury responsibilities of women and men. Today, everyone aged between 20 and 65 (with some exceptions) who is resident within a specific distance from a court must attend if summoned. A person may be excused if jury service would cause them serious inconvenience or hardship.