Justice delayed - Six years in custody without a trial
Barbara Gayle, Justice Coordinator
The cries are growing louder from accused persons who are languishing in custody while their trials are repeatedly put off because of insufficient jurors and absent witnesses.
"I have been in custody for almost a decade now and the Crown is lying about the witnesses coming!" shouted an accused man last week when he heard that his trial could not proceed because the witnesses were unavailable.
The court records reveal that the man, along with two co-accused, has been in custody for six years facing a murder charge without having been tried.
Justice Lloyd Hibbert, who was presiding in the Home Circuit Court last Monday, was taken aback when he heard the man's story. He queried whether he was facing a retrial.
When he was told that it was not a retrial, a surprised Hibbert called on the prosecutor to outline why the case had taken so long to be tried.
"This case has been on the list for six years and I find it very disturbing. The Constitution guarantees the right to a fair trial within a reasonable time and I cannot say six years is a reasonable time," Hibbert emphasised.
Problems must be addressed
He declared that the problems in the justice system must be addressed very soon.
The prosecutor informed the court that at some stage, there was a problem with legal representation for the men while the Crown had been ready for trial on some occasions.
Director of Public Prosecutions Paula Llewellyn, QC, who was in court for another case, said in order to expedite the trial, she was assigning Assistant Director of Public Prosecutions Joan Barnett to be in charge of the case, which is now set for trial on July 9.
Last November, Justice Lennox Campbell was commended for taking the bold step not to set another trial date in a murder case involving four men who had been before the court for 11 years without a trial.
There was a shortage of jurors, and after attempts to empanel a 12-member jury failed, the judge told the men who were on bail not to return to court.
Campbell noted that the 11-year delay was an abuse of process of the court and a breach of the men's constitutional rights to a fair trial within a reasonable time.
Last Monday, the case, dubbed "The Good Samaritans", was ready for trial, but only 27 jurors were available for empanelling.
Winston Daley, a senior member of staff, told the court that 184 summonses had been sent out. The police served 106 potential jurors, but only three of them were in attendance.
The other 24 jurors were from a panel that had been serving for the last two weeks.
After seven jurors were selected, five more jurors were needed to complete the panel.
Hibbert ordered that summonses be sent out for additional jurors and put off the case.
The court staff reportedly sent out more than 200 summonses to the police and 39 jurors turned up.
Some of the jurors were excused as they explained that they had been served at short notice and had prior engagements.
The additional five jurors were empanelled, and the trial of André Ennis and Passmore Millings, also called 'Shane Brown', who are charged with the murder of The Good Samaritans, 23-year-old Jhanel Whyte and her 24-year-old boyfriend, Taiwo McKenzie, commenced.
The two were kidnapped in November 2007 when they went to Havendale, St Andrew, to give medical supplies to a man who was injured when McKenzie's motor car collided with a motorcycle.
Some lawyers have been agitating recently for some cases to be tried by the judge alone because of the problem with the non-attendance of jurors.
Senior attorney-at-law, Tom Tavares-Finson, who is appearing in The Good Samaritans case, is calling on Minister of Justice Mark Golding to meet with members of the private Bar to arrive at workable solutions, including the possibility "of removing some of the matters being tried by jurors to be tried by the judge alone".
He also called for an increase in the daily $500 stipend paid to jurors when they serve.
A policeman who serves summonses told The Sunday Gleaner that "a lot of people were unemployed or self-employed and will tell you that they did not have the money for such an exercise".
The policeman suggested that "the system should be changed so that jurors who are facing difficulties with their expenses are paid their stipend on a weekly or daily basis".
The courts islandwide have a backlog of 400,000 cases.
The Home Circuit Court alone has a backlog of more than 500 cases, the majority of which are murder cases.