Jurors - the poor cousins of the justice system


November 02, 2015

Jurors. That's the name given to the "other judges" who are supreme on the facts. Jurors are judges of the facts in criminal cases where a jury is required or in selected civil cases.

The "real" judge who is supreme in the law is dressed in robe, usually red but now in patriotic colours: black with green and gold stripes. You know when the real judge enters the court as everyone stands up promptly. This respect is not accorded to the jurors. Unlike the judge who wears the robe, the jurors sit on regular chairs or benches in a group called the array. For murder and treason 12 jurors form the array and in any other criminal matters in the Circuit Court, Coroners Court and in civil matters, the array is made up of seven jurors.

Any person who resides in Jamaica between 18 and 70 is liable to serve as a juror but your name must be on the current voters list or registered under the Revenue Administration Act. The Jury Act provides for other requirements. A long list of Jamaicans have been exempted from jury service. These include most of the professional groups that benefit from tertiary education.

The jury list is made up in February each year when both the Director of Elections and the Registration Authority under the Revenue Administration Act provide their lists, save for those who are exempted, and forward the said jury lists to the chief police officer in the parish who shall forward a copy to the Resident Magistrate in each parish. After the jury list is settled and certified it is sent to the Registrar of the Supreme Court who shall strike and make up panels of jurors not being less than 70 to 100. Twenty-one days before the juror is expected to serve, the Registrar is to cause a summons to be served on the juror to attend court.

legal training

So just imagine six weeks of evidence, three days of closing arguments by lawyers and three days of summation by a judge. The jurors are now asked to retire and consider the verdict. The judge in robe has given them all the directions on the law, which without legal training they are expected to apply to the six weeks of evidence. What is critical is not whether the jurors understand what the judge has said about the law, as there is a presumption that the jurors will apply the law once the judge has given the correct directions on the law. Therefore, even in the most serious cases, the jury can ignore the directions by the judge and use their "gut feelings" and nothing can be done about it, as jurors are not asked to account. The test is whether the judge has given the correct directions in law.

So generally, these jurors called judges are treated like the poor cousins of the judges in robes. Their functions are just as important as the judges in robes and without them there can be no trial for treason, murder, manslaughter and any of the sexual offences that are tried in the Circuit Court. It would make good sense to have a massive overall of the jury system to improve the conditions of work for jurors and pay them much better for their travelling expenses so that they may be more encouraged to perform this important role.

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