Juror shortage hurts justice system
Legal practitioners searching for solutions to long-running problem
Barbara Gayle, Justice coordinator
There seems to be no immediate solution to the shortage of jurors which has been plaguing the local justice system for several years.
Despite a recent amendment to the Jury Act for jurors to be selected from the Taxpayer Registration Number (TRN) registry, lawyers practising in the criminal courts are not optimistic that it will solve the problem.
Many weeks, cases scheduled for trial, especially those involving multiple accused, have to be put off because of insufficient jurors.
The police serve hundreds of summonses each month but only a small percentage of persons served turn up.
Jury summonses are not yet being selected from the TRN registry list as checks last week revealed that jurors were still being chosen from the voters list.
"In order to perfect a jury list from the TRN registry, it will definitely take some time because there has to be a sifting through of the names on the list" a member of the court staff explained.
There are no checks presently to determine if persons who are summoned for jury duty have previous convictions and according to a policeman, if that was done, it would only reduce the number of persons who are available and willing to serve.
But some lawyers see the real problem to be the fact that government workers are exempt from the jury list.
According to attorney-at-law Michael Lorne he cannot see the reason for such an exemption.
He said the practice originated from the colonial days when it was said if one worked with the government then he or she was going to side with the government.
Lorne argued that there are intelligent, honest and fair government workers who will listen to the evidence and give a true verdict according to the evidence.
Lorne thinks fear is one of the reasons citizens did not want to do jury duty.
He said the government should take steps for school children to be taught that one of the highest forms of justice is when accused persons were tried by their peers.
"The courthouses are much too cloistered in my view. They are locked away from the people," Lorne remarked.
He referred to decades ago when the courts were more open and people used to attend daily.
"They need to get back the love of the public for the courts, " said Lorne.
Attorney-at-law Lloyd McFarlane says the exemption of government workers from jury duty is now posing a problem for the justice system.
He does not think that getting jurors from the TRN list will solve the problem.
According to McFarlane lack of funds is the real problem why persons are not attending court when summoned for jury duty.
"Persons who are self employed cannot afford to attend court for two to three weeks because $500 daily cannot compensate them and the situation that exists now is that they are not getting the money immediately after they complete jury duty," argued McFarlane.
He disagrees that fear is one of the reasons that persons are not turning up for jury duty.
"What is going to happen is that the courts will have to dedicate some more resources to finding persons who will actually serve without giving excuses," says McFarlane.
jurors live far
The situation is compounded in rural Jamaica where attorney-at-law Leonard Green noted that potential jurors live very far from the courthouses and no provision is made to transport them.
Green said many of the persons in those areas were unemployed and those in the middle and upper classes do not attend court to serve as jurors.
According to Green, there is the need for greater education about the justice system for people in rural Jamaica.
He says the custodes could play an important role in assisting to educate those persons about their civic duty.