Barbara Gayle, Justice Coordinator
Some jurors who have been summoned to serve this year at the Home Circuit Court have complained of financial difficulties.
There are reports that the main grouse is that many of them go hungry when they are selected to serve as they cannot afford to buy lunch.
President of the Jamaican Bar Association, Ian Wilkinson, is calling on the authorities to address the situation as a matter of urgency.
"There is a risk that this will prevent them from hearing or concentrating on the evidence and from deliberating properly if they are hungry," Wilkinson said yesterday. He also added that if such a situation is happening, then it will clearly result in a miscarriage of justice.
George Soutar, QC, president of the Advocates' Association of Jamaica, says jurors cannot adjudicate on a case if they are hungry.
He said the Government should consider making provisions for them to get lunch when they serve.
"Justice cannot be administered in an atmosphere where there is great inconvenience," Soutar said.
He said the Government should consider increasing the stipend because, despite the inflation, it has not been increased for several years.
A juror told The Gleaner this week that she operated a small business at her house and could barely afford to maintain herself and her two children. She said she was losing revenue having to attend court on a daily basis. "I am told we will be given $500 daily but I cannot see the reason why jurors who are self-employed or unemployed are not given the money on a daily basis," she said.
A juror is entitled to $500 daily as a stipend for lunch and bus fare when they serve, but it takes months, if not years, for them to be reimbursed.
The circuit courts islandwide have been facing problems with insufficient jurors to try the cases. This has contributed to the huge backlog of cases and accused persons languishing in custody for years.
The daily rate was increased in 1998 from J$5 to J$500 to cover all costs incurred by a juror who is selected to serve.