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The Jury Act is being amended to allow for majority verdicts by juries, of no less than nine to three among a 12-man jury, in non-capital murder cases (where the sentencing options do not include the death penalty).
Prime Minister Bruce Golding, who opened the debate on the Bill in the House of Representatives on Tuesday (June 15), suggested that the amendment would improve the efficiency in the court system and result in fewer instances of a hung jury, or a deadlock, which would reduce the need for retrials.
Mr. Golding also explained that where it involves trials for capital murder, for which the maximum punishment is death, or where it is trial for treason, the Bill would retain the requirement that the person can only be convicted by a unanimous decision of the jury.
He also explained that verdict of the jury will only be accepted by the courts provided it is not delivered until the jury has deliberated at least two hours.
“So you don’t want them to be disappearing into the jury room and come back out quickly and say, we took a vote and nine of us agree. There is a requirement that there must be deliberation and, provided that there has been deliberation for not less than two hours in those cases, a verdict of nine to 12 would be accepted,” Mr. Golding said.
Opposition Member of Parliament for Central Kingston, Ronald Thwaites, said the amendment made no significant infringements on the presumption of innocence, “which we are obliged to treat as sacrosanct.”
The Bill is among several pieces of legislation currently before Parliament to deal with crime and to improve the capacity of the Courts to dispose of criminal cases faster. Debate will resume in the Lower House next Tuesday, June 22.