Thu | Aug 6, 2020

Letter of the Day | Elimination of jury trials an affront to justice

Published:Sunday | June 10, 2018 | 12:00 AM



The current bill before Parliament to amend the Gun Court Act to now make it mandatory for murder trials to be conducted without a jury is the clearest indication yet that the ultimate intention is to extinguish trials by jury in Jamaica.

What is perhaps equally alarming is that since the introduction of the bill a few weeks ago, there appears not to be a single voice of concern. In what appears to have been the basis for the introduction of the bill, the minister of justice recently indicated publicly that there was a shortage of jurors in certain cases of murder involving the use of an illegal firearm because of fear. This, he noted, added to significant delays in the trial of such cases.

Where's the support?

It would be interesting to see the empirical data in support of the minister's point, since to begin with, jurors are never told, nor are they made aware of beforehand, the type of case they are being empanelled for. How, then, would a shortage of jurors arise in such circumstances?

The cynic in me may argue that this move is to hold specific individuals 'accountable', namely, judges, when verdicts do not pander to the wishes of some as it is far less attractive to blame the nameless faces of juries of seven or 12.

As it is already, recent legislation has diluted our once-robust jury system. The number of jurors required to preside over the vast majority of jury trials has been reduced from 12 to seven, and so, too, the number of challenges lawyers have to reject a juror in a trial.

The exclusivity of a jury trial is no more as there is the option for such cases to be tried by judge alone. New legislation, such as the Criminal Justice (Suppression of Criminal Organizations) Act, 2014 (anti-gang legislation) and Law Reform (Fraudulent Transactions)(Special Provisions) Act (lotto-scam legislation), has created harsh penalties comparable to murder and sexual offences, yet in the two former examples cited, they do not enjoy the benefit of having a jury determine guilt or innocence.

If the purpose of the bill now before Parliament is to eliminate jury trials in gun-murder cases because of the alleged fear factor that jurors have, dare I ask what will be the solution to the fear factor that faces many electors when they go to the polls?

I rest my case!