Attorneys want justice for jurors
Strong objections are now being raised by some defence lawyers to the Government's decision to reimburse expenses to persons summoned for jury duty only if they are selected to try criminal cases.
"This decision must be reversed immediately," said attorney-at-law Lloyd McFarlane, days after some persons summoned to serve as jurors during the Michaelmas Session of the Home Circuit Court complained that they were informed last week that unless they sit on cases they could not benefit from the $2,000 daily allowance for jury duty.
"I cannot understand why I should be saddled with expenses for travelling and lunch, all because I was not chosen to serve," one person remarked.
One of the complaints is from potential juror John Smith*, who says the summons to jury duty came as a strain. He is self-employed and to miss three weeks of work to do jury duty would leave him without an income.
But as a patriotic Jamaican, Smith reasoned that he had a duty to turn up, so off to court he went.
However, this was a painful lesson for Smith. He suddenly understood why so many persons summoned to jury duty did not attend.
First, he learnt that he was not properly summoned as the summons had been left in his mailbox and not served in person, so he was under no obligation to go to court.
He later found out that despite being willing to do his civic duty, he would not be paid the $2,000 per day as promised by Justice Minister Mark Golding, because persons are paid only if they are empanelled to sit on a jury.
Smith said from his experience there was no guarantee that cases would be ready for trial despite the fact that persons were summoned for jury duty. So for very long hours some days, "I am forced to sit in a room twiddling my thumbs with absolutely nothing to do but wait to respond in the event that a case is ready for trial and my name is called to sit in the jury box".
"It is utterly unfair that I have to find my own bus fare and lunch each day while serving my country, all because I am not chosen on a jury panel. "I now wonder if the Government took these things into consideration," he added.
A very upset Smith remarked, "So this could mean leaving my job for at least three full weeks and not collecting a red cent because the messed-up justice system continues to limp along."
UNWILLING TO SERVE
He said he now understands why citizens were not willing to serve as jurors because, in addition to having to bear their expenses, a lot of time is wasted at the courts.
It was reported last week that of 1,800 summonses which were prepared for the start of the Michaelmas Session, the police were given 1,000 to serve while 800 were sent out by registered post.
The police served 233 summonses and 117 jurors turned up. Some of those receiving summons found them in letter boxes.
According to McFarlane, the situation is entirely unfair and defeats the whole effort to encourage persons to come forward as jurors.
He charged that Jamaicans might be more reluctant now to come forward as jurors since they will not be reimbursed for their expenses if they do not sit on cases.
"This decision not to pay jurors who have not actually served on a jury is a serious mistake and must be reversed immediately," said McFarlane.
Fellow attorney-at-law Christopher Townsend also argued that persons must be compensated once they turn up for jury duty.
Townsend argued that while persons could be paid less than the full allowance if they did not sit on cases, they must be reimbursed for their travelling and lunch expenses.
"I certainly think that if citizens are required to spend their own money to fulfil an obligation to the State, then they should be refunded for their expenses," said attorney-at-law Tom Tavares-Finson.
According to Tavares-Finson, the entire jury system needs a complete overhaul. He argued that there should be a study of the system, and innovative policies implemented to deal with the problems.
He argued that consideration should be given as to whether we want to continue with the system in its present form or to move away from the system as it currently operates, as there are deep-seated problems that went beyond the stipend for jurors.
The allowance for jurors was increased in July from $500 daily to $2,000 daily. However, a court official disclosed that specific instructions were given that only those jurors who sit on cases should benefit.
* Name changed.