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DPP: Juror crisis threatens credibility of justice system

Published:Wednesday | September 24, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Llewellyn

Livern Barrett, Gleaner Writer

A DISMAL picture has emerged of the measly number of persons who have come forward to serve as jurors in some of the nation's Circuit Courts.

The Detentions and Courts Division of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) revealed yesterday that 1,000 jury summonses were sent out to pros-pective jurors for the current term of the Home Circuit Court in Kingston, but only 252 were recorded as being served. No figure was available for the number of persons who actually showed up.

The Michaelmas session of the Home Circuit Court opened last week with 507 cases listed, 483 of which were traversed from the previous term. The list includes 350 murder cases, which typically require between 26 and 30 jurors, and 93 sexual-offences cases.

For the current session of the St James Circuit Court, statistics obtained by The Gleaner show that 398 summonses were sent out to prospective jurors, but only 56 were recorded as being served. There are 71 jury trials on the court list for this term and the data show that when sittings began last week, only 30 persons showed up for jury duty.

Paula Llewellyn, the nation's chief prosecutor, sounded a warning yesterday that the lack of interest in the judicial process by citizens was a disaster waiting to happen.

"They don't understand that what it will do is it will lead to a feeling of hopelessness and frustration and the cynical view that one should either be indifferent to the system, or worse, embrace vigilante justice, or even worse, bow to the local don," Llewellyn said.

"So the system of justice loses credibility to you," she continued.

Llewellyn revealed last week that 390 summonses were sent to prospective jurors for the start of the St Catherine Circuit Court, but said only 40 were recorded as being served. From the 40, Llewellyn said only 27 persons turned up at court and three had medical certificates excusing them from serving.

The St Catherine Circuit Court opened last week with 24 murders and 111 sexual offences listed among the 169 matters down for jury trial.

LYING To POLICE

The challenge for the police, according to Superintendent Buetress Foster-Gardener, who heads the Detentions and Courts Division, is that they do not know the persons whose names appear on the summonses.

"So sometimes you are actually talking to the person [named on the jury summons], but they tell you they don't know who the person is," Foster-Gardener explained.

In addition, she said some persons complain about the length of time it takes to be reimbursed for monies spent while carrying out jury duty.

"Some people will tell you that they spend two to three weeks serving and they would like to know that when they are finished, they get paid," the senior cop said.

Justice Minister Mark Golding admitted yesterday that he has seen some of the numbers and he is very concerned.

"Obviously, the current system is not working well, and that's [due to] a combination of factors," Golding told The Gleaner yesterday.

Those factors, Golding underscored, include the small stipend paid to jurors, which he described as unrealistic, and the limited pool from which prospective jurors are drawn.

Consequently, he said the justice ministry plans to speed up its efforts to reform the country's jury system, which, among other things, would include an increase in the stipend and the removal of exemptions from some categories of persons, thereby widening the pool of persons eligible for jury duty.

Earlier this year, those proposals were approved by Cabinet and sent to the chief parliamentary counsel to have the required legislation crafted.

Golding said he has received a draft bill that is now being reviewed by his ministry and he hopes to have it tabled in Parliament by the end of the year.

At the same time, the justice minister said he has been "trying to pressure" the finance ministry to provide funding for the stipend increase.

livern.barrett@gleanerjm.com