Mon | Oct 26, 2020

Bar association against halting jury trials due to COVID-19

Published:Thursday | October 1, 2020 | 1:03 PM
The bar association is of the view that it would be contrary to the rule of law to deprive an accused person of the right to a trial by a jury - File photo.

The Jamaican Bar Association says measures to limit the spread of COVID-19 should not impede the right of Jamaicans to access jury trials.

The association is contending that any move to the contrary runs counter to the law.

The position comes against the background of Chief Justice Bryan Sykes last week stating that the COVID-19 pandemic had forced many changes upon the justice system, including a shift from jury trials to judge-only trials.

Jury trials in the nation’s courts have been suspended because of COVID-19 restrictions. 

Sykes stressed that no one has a right to a jury trial.

“The right that is guaranteed is a right to a fair trial with a properly constituted and impartial court.”

But, in a statement, the bar association noted that common law or “case law” and legislation entitle an accused person the right to trial by jury unless he or she chooses a trial by judge alone with the agreement of the prosecution.

This right of choice is not the right of the defence bar, but instead the right of every accused person and prosecutors, it underscored.

It says while it understands the need to ensure the safety of stakeholders, the law and the rights of individuals should be upheld.

“Our courts have required more infrastructural improvements for years and it is now more important than ever to implement those changes and more so that accused individuals, who remain innocent until they are proven guilty, can exercise their right to trials by jury in a healthy and safe manner.

“Without the option for jury trials being available, it is arguable that an accused person’s election for a bench trial is not a genuine choice as intended by law.”

The bar association says the COVID-19 pandemic should not be used as a reason to ‘get on with’ bench trials instead of jury trials.

“To deprive an accused person of his right to trial by jury while at the same time neglecting to find solutions within a reasonable time to preserve jury trials would be contrary to the rule of law.”

It is calling for more urgent measures to restore the full right of accused persons to choose trial by jury.

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