DPP, JAMBAR want fewer exemptions amid worsening shortage; Chuck says fix could lie in TRN database
Justice Minister Delroy Chuck has poured cold water on a suggestion that the law be amended to widen the pool of citizens available for jury duty. Schedule A of the Jury Act, which came into effect over 40 years ago, exempts several categories of...
Justice Minister Delroy Chuck has poured cold water on a suggestion that the law be amended to widen the pool of citizens available for jury duty.
Schedule A of the Jury Act, which came into effect over 40 years ago, exempts several categories of people from serving as jurors, including public servants, doctors, lawyers, cops, soldiers, teachers, nurses, registered pharmacists, ministers of religion, pilots, masters and captains of vessels.
Custodes, lawmakers, councillors, and judges, along with their respective spouses, are also exempted.
A jury typically comprises seven people, and there are five courtrooms at the Home Circuit Court, located in downtown Kingston.
But amid a worsening juror shortage for criminal trials, chief prosecutor Paula Llewellyn and Jamaican Bar Association (JAMBAR) President Alexander Williams believe the time has come to amend the Jury Act.
The Home Circuit Court for the Corporate Area reopened on Wednesday for the Easter term, with a total of 760 cases listed, but according to the Court Administration Division, only 23 potential jurors turned up.
A total of 35 jurors are required if all the courtrooms are hearing a trial involving a single accused person.
“There needs to be a total overhaul of the exempt list in Schedule A of the principal act,” said Llewellyn, referring to the Jury Act of 1898.
Such a move, said Llewellyn, the director of public prosecutions, would enhance the public interest to have jurors available to try cases.
“The system of justice depends on different stakeholders working together towards the common goal of completing the disposal of a matter that has come before the court,” she added, while noting a recent shift towards judge-alone trials in Jamaica.
Williams, too, argued that “maybe the time has come” to expand the pool of persons who can serve as jurors.
“Don’t just take a class of persons like that and exclude them,” he insisted during an interview outside the Home Circuit Court.
But it appears that the justice minister is not persuaded by the suggestion.
“I don’t think that is what is really required right now,” Chuck told The Gleaner during an interview on Wednesday.
Instead, he said that the focus should be on getting the correct address for citizens eligible to serve as jurors. That information can be obtained through the taxpayer registration number (TRN) database maintained by Tax Administration Jamaica, Chuck suggested.
“To the best of my knowledge, they are using the electoral list, where, I would imagine, 70-odd per cent of those addresses are not correct. So ... the summons for jury service can’t be served, or even when they are served, it’s the wrong address,” he said.
“If you use the TRN list, which may have a fairly up-to-date address, you are likely to be able to get more persons available to serve.”
Further, the justice minister disclosed that he is now crafting a submission for Cabinet that seeks to increase the stipend paid to jurors for the duration of their service and institute a stipend to cover travelling expenses for potential jurors who show up at court but are not selected.
Currently, the latter do not get a stipend, but those selected receive $2,000 per day, a figure that Chuck acknowledged “can barely cover” daily travelling and other expenses, especially for citizens in rural areas.
He declined to disclose the rates he was proposing, noting that the submission is not yet before Cabinet and that the figures could be adjusted.
Chuck argued that it could be “burdensome” and “not wise” to remove professional groups such as teachers, nurses, and doctors from the exempt list.
“To have a doctor come to court to serve for three weeks or a nurse or a teacher ... I don’t think it would be wise,” he said.
“You take a teacher out of the classroom for three weeks, it may well be that 30 or 40 students will be without a teacher for three weeks. That would not make sense,” the minister said, explaining the “usual” rationale for the exemptions.
Llewellyn lamented, though, that the cross section of people who are available to serve as jurors “somehow has narrowed”.
“Some persons, like businesspeople, are somehow able to pay lip service to whether to come or not and you will see some of them getting medical excuses from their doctors,” said the justice minister.