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Story Highlights

  • The Senate on Friday (October 9) began debate on the Jury Amendment Act, which seeks to address the continuing problem of a shortage of jurors to serve the Circuit Courts, which has been contributing significantly to the delays in the disposal of criminal cases.
  • Piloted by Minister of Justice, Senator the Hon. Mark Golding, the Bill aims to improve efficiency of the administration of the criminal justice system in the island.
  • It also seeks to amend the Jury Act to provide for: the production of an expanded list of potential jurors from a combination of the voters’ list and the list of persons with Tax Registration Numbers (TRN) issued under the Revenue Administration Act; and an array of seven jurors for all jury trials other than for treason or murder where (on conviction) the death penalty may be imposed.

The Senate on Friday (October 9) began debate on the Jury Amendment Act, which seeks to address the continuing problem of a shortage of jurors to serve the Circuit Courts, which has been contributing significantly to the delays in the disposal of criminal cases.

Piloted by Minister of Justice, Senator the Hon. Mark Golding, the Bill aims to improve efficiency of the administration of the criminal justice system in the island.

It also seeks to amend the Jury Act to provide for: the production of an expanded list of potential jurors from a combination of the voters’ list and the list of persons with Tax Registration Numbers (TRN) issued under the Revenue Administration Act; and an array of seven jurors for all jury trials other than for treason or murder where (on conviction) the death penalty may be imposed.

In his remarks, Mr. Golding said the legislation, which is a critical part of the justice reform programme, will tackle issues hampering the effective functioning of the island’s jury system.

“Some of the important changes seek to firstly, reduce the number of jurors needed to try certain cases to put them on par with other offences that carry the same potential penalty,” he said.

He noted that over the years, the jury system in the island has been plagued by a number of problems not least of which, is the fact that the pool of qualified persons from which jurors are drawn, has diminished considerably.

“The jury is an important component of our criminal justice system. It is recognised that the problems with the jury system, if not addressed, will continue to negatively impact efforts being made to improve the justice system in other respects and undermine the entire system,” he said.

In supporting the Bill, Opposition Senator Marlene Malahoo Forte said the proposed amendments will assist in the efficiency of the courts and address issues that contribute to protracted delays.

She noted that the restriction to the voters list in the past has excluded many persons who are competent and able to serve, but who have chosen not to enumerate.

“So the use of persons who are registered tax payers and who have a tax registration number will increase the pool from which potential jurors are drawn,” she stated.

Senator Malahoo Forte also suggested that a scheme for alternate jurors be provided, in the event that the numbers of jurors fall below the prescribed minimum for which a valid jury can be empanelled or a valid verdict can be returned.

“Because the time at which a replacement is done, is critical-whether the evidence has been heard, whether that person can properly deliberate on the case, considering that the number of jurors is now being reduced, it would be helpful, if you have, perhaps two, who would be empanelled as alternate jurors,” she proposed.

For his part, Senator Tom Tavares Finson called for improvements in the infrastructure and facilities at court houses which, he said will encourage jurors to serve.

Other Senators who contributed to the debate included: Dr. Angela Brown Burke; K.D. Knight; Lambert Brown; A.J Nicholson; and Arthur Williams.

The Bill also seeks to provide for the enhancement of the jury selection process, by modification of the rules concerning the number of peremptory challenges allowed; an amendment to the Criminal Justice (Administration) Act to provide for the trail by the Judge alone, where prosecution and accused so agree; and the statutory protection of employees summoned to serve as jurors against adverse action for their employers.

Debate on the Bill was suspended to consider the suggestions that were proposed. The debate will continue at the next sitting of the Senate on Friday, October 16.