Tue | Feb 25, 2020

Sick of sick excuses - Jurors won’t be allowed to skip duty for illness, crime concerns

Published:Wednesday | January 8, 2020 | 12:33 AMChristopher Thomas/Gleaner Writer

WESTERN BUREAU:

A High Court judge used Tuesday’s start to the St James Circuit Court’s Hilary session to warn prospective jurors in St James that he would not accept reprisal fears or health challenges as a valid basis for them to be excused from cases.

The long-standing issue of low juror turnout to try cases in St James came under fresh scrutiny yesterday, as fewer than two dozen appeared for the opening session that was overseen by Justice Glen Brown.

While it was not ascertained how many juror summonses had been sent out by the court for this first sitting in the parish this year, 21 jurors would not be enough to try the 150 cases that are scheduled for the sitting, which includes 134 matters that were traversed from previous Circuit Court sessions.

For this session, the case list includes 47 murders, 34 sexual offences, and 27 law reform (lottery scamming) matters.

During his address, Justice Brown lambasted many prospective jurors for criticising the judicial process while making various excuses to disobey summonses.

“For many jurors, when they get the paper (summons), the first thing they bawl is, ‘Lord, why I have to go to court?’ But at the same time they criticise the political directorate for not doing anything about the crime rate. What you have to appreciate is that you are a part of the justice system,” Brown said in a long-suffering tone.

“Those persons who say they suffer from high blood pressure, take your medication, because you’re not going to be excused because of that. And don’t be afraid of what accused persons are going to do to you, because they don’t interfere with jurors in this country,” Brown added, to disbelieving reactions from the jurors-in-waiting.

In past sittings of the St James Circuit Court, several High Court justices have criticised the low turnout of jurors compared to the number of summonses that have been prepared for each sitting.

During last year’s sitting of the Circuit Court’s Michaelmas session in September, only 13 jurors obeyed the 31 summonses that were sent out.

Further back, in the 2012 sitting of the Easter session, 423 summonses were prepared, of which 68 were served and only 32 obeyed. Eight hundred summonses were issued for the court’s Michaelmas session in 2013, but fewer than 50 jurors obeyed their summonses.

christopher.thomas@gleanerjm.com