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Fearful jurors! - Shortage of jurors in rural courts hampering judicial system

Published:Thursday | May 24, 2018 | 12:00 AMEdmond Campbell/ Senior Staff Reporter
Delroy Chuck

Jamaicans who are summoned to carry out their civic duties serving as jurors are said to be crippled by fear, leaving the justice sector scrambling to put together jury panels to try cases, particularly in rural Jamaica.

Justice Minister Delroy Chuck said yesterday that it was extremely difficult to find a panel of jurors to sit on court cases, especially in the parishes outside of Kingston and St Andrew. The long-standing issue remains a serious challenge to the justice sector even as the Ministry of Justice reviews fines for jurors who are summoned and fail to show up at the Coroner's Court.

Among a raft of laws now being reviewed by the justice ministry to increase fines is the Coroner's Act. Under this statute, a person summoned as a juror at an inquest who fails to appear or refuses without reasonable excuse to serve as a juror could be fined a maximum of $4,000. However, under the Jury Act, penalties ranging from $10,000 to $100,000 are set out in the law for breaches, including refusal to attend court after being summoned.

Chuck told journalists yesterday at a post-Sectoral Debate press conference that finding jurors to try cases is a major concern across the country.

"The citizens of this country are literally afraid to come to court. We are having great difficulty finding panels to try these cases," he said Chuck.

According to the justice minister, the difficulty in empanelling jurors for court cases is one of the fundamental reasons why the ministry recently tabled a bill to amend the Gun Court Act to permit a judge alone to try a firearm offence involving non-capital murder.

The memorandum of objects and reasons of the bill states that a "decision has been taken to amend the Gun Court Act to provide for non-capital murder offences committed with a firearm to be tried in the Circuit Court Division of the Gun Court by a judge sitting without a jury".

Chuck said that debate on the bill, which was tabled in Parliament recently, would begin shortly. As part of measures to reform the jury system, the number of jurors who try non-capital murder cases had been reduced from 12 to seven. But despite this measure, the shortage of jurors persists in the rural areas, Chuck noted.