BRUCE GOLDING – From Prime Minister to Coroner’s Juror
His name is Orette Bruce Golding. He needs no introduction. Politics is in his DNA and he did not disappoint. He became a prime minister of Jamaica after decades in representational politics. Some Jamaicans might not have liked many of the decisions he took in his long political life. One thing for certain, however, is that no one can fault him for stepping forward recently to serve as a juror, along with six other ordinary Jamaicans, in the special Coroner's Court held at Sutton Street in the Corporate Area.
The former prime minister sat as foreman in a jury, impanelled in the special Coroner's Court, that returned a verdict touching and concerning the death of a minor who committed suicide while in the care of the Department of Correctional Services.
Some may ask: why is Bruce Golding sitting as a juror a big deal? It is. It might even be historic. There is no record that any former Prime Minister of Jamaica has sat as juror in any courts in Jamaica, before becoming a prime minister or after demitting office as prime minister. Secondly, Golding is the ONLY living prime minister of Jamaica who is not styled 'Most Honourable', and this is because he refused this high honour on the grounds that the title should be awarded in recognition of quality service and not just given because it comes with the office. Thus, his stance in refusing one of the highest honours that this country can bestow on its citizen and then to sit in the special Coroner's Court, speak volumes of his commitment to service for the people of Jamaica. This is a significant event which is worthy of special note.
The fact is that the jury system is essential to our justice system. No one can say when the jury system was started, but what is not in doubt is that Jamaica inherited the jury system as a British colony. The system underscores the right to trial by your peers. So on each occasion when a jury is impanelled, that jury is the 'judge of the facts' while the presiding judge is the 'judge of the law'. The role of the jury is therefore integral to the system of administration of justice. So, those who are called to serve as jurors are presented with a unique opportunity to participate in the justice system.
According to the Jury Act, 1898, to qualify to become a juror in Jamaica, you must reside in Jamaica and have attained the age of 18 years but be under 75 years old. Schedule A of the Jury Act provides a long list of persons who are exempt from serving on juries. Those who are exempted include members and spouses of the Cabinet, Senate, House of Representative, judiciary, parish councillors, lawyers, doctors, schoolteachers, lecturers in universities and colleges, ship captains, pilots, ministers of religion, soldiers, police officers, among others. The provisions of Schedule A have served to remove a vast number of persons who can properly read, understand and apply the relevant law to the facts, which are skills that are necessary for jury service.
In relation to those Jamaicans who are not exempted or disqualified, many have avoided jury duty for many and varied reasons. Indeed, there are many persons who simply view it is a total waste of time.
The presence of Bruce Golding in the old and shabby surroundings of the Sutton Street courthouse serving as a juror for many days, stretched over several weeks, under what cannot be regarded as the most pleasant working conditions, should impact the jury system in a positive way. He will now be the poster boy for the jury system.
It is hoped that with such a clear precedent set by Bruce Golding, Jamaicans who are not disqualified or exempt from jury service will be encouraged to serve as jurors not only in the Coroner's Court at Sutton Street, but in all other courts in Jamaica where your service is required. The justice system needs you.