Wed | Jan 16, 2019

What price justice?

Published:Tuesday | January 26, 2016 | 12:00 AM


An Act to amend the Jury Act was passed in the Senate on October 16, 2015, and passed in the House of Representatives on December 1, 2015. The governor general gave his assent on December 21, 2015, a few days shy of Christmas.

Among other things, it reduced the number of persons to serve on a jury in non-capital murder cases from 12 to seven and allows for a majority verdict of five of those seven jurors. It is my contention that this particular amendment, in the most serious of cases, to wit, murder, ignores not only the gravity of the offence but reveals a lack of appreciation of the need to have the fullest participation and deliberation before declaring a person a murderer and sentencing them as such.

The argument has been advanced that the panoply of amendments have been passed to have a justice system that is more efficient and to reduce the backlog of cases. In some cases, the amendments are welcome, including an increase in the number of persons available to serve and an increase in the jury stipend.

However, the amendment that reduces the number of jurors in non-capital cases and the retention of a majority verdict is not only inconsistent, but illogical, with the amendment increasing the overall pool of jurors and being more expedient and efficient.Why retain a majority verdict where the jurors in a non-capital murder case have already been reduced?

The number of cases in which there has been a hung jury can be counted on one hand out of the hundreds of murder cases in our courts. Surely, the smaller a jury, the less there should be a need for a majority verdict. It also has the inherent danger of a lack of full deliberation and taking into account the persuasive value of dissenting views by ignoring them and opting for the expedient majority view.

Clearly, it is hoped that there will be more convictions as a result. What else could explain this double-edged sword? The fact that members of both Houses also practise at the criminal Bar is of no moment, as the strictures of political compliance snuff out the light of any candle of hope. This amendment is analogous to the butcher's knife, as the butcher, after fattening the legislation with some worthwhile amendments, leads the citizen to the slaughter.