03 Aug OPPOSITION CALLS FOR FULL CONSULTATION ON REMOVING TRIALS BY JURY FOR GUN MURDERS
Senator Mark Golding, Opposition Spokesperson on Justice, is expressing alarm that on Tuesday 25th July 2017, without any prior notice or discussion, the Government proposed amendments to two Bills that were being debated in the House of Representatives, which would eliminate jury trials for most murders in the country.
The amendments were brought to Parliament on Tuesday without prior consultation with the legal profession, the Judiciary, the Opposition or the wider public. It is quite extraordinary that the Government is seeking, without any stakeholder consultation whatsoever, to take away the longstanding right to a trial by jury in relation to the majority of murder cases in Jamaica (i.e. those involving a firearm).
Based on remarks reportedly made by at least one Government Minister in the House on Tuesday, it appears that the thinking behind this move is that it will help to reduce the backlog of cases in the Courts. However, that does not seem to be evidence-based reasoning.
Significant reforms to the jury system were implemented in 2015 to enable it to function more effectively. The daily stipend for jurors was increased from $500 to $2,000. Non-capital murder cases are now tried by 7 jurors (rather than 12 jurors, as applied before). Public servants are no longer exempt from jury duty, adding over 100,000 Jamaicans to the jury pool. Trials are no longer being delayed as a result of difficulties in empaneling a jury.
On the other hand, the Gun Court, where for decades firearm offences (with the exception of murder) have been tried by judges sitting without a jury, has an even worse backlog situation than the Circuit Courts, where trials are by jury. It is also true that the percentage of cases which result in a conviction in the Gun Court is substantially lower than in the Circuit Courts.
These factors do not support a conclusion that getting rid of jury trials in gun murder cases will help to alleviate the case backlog, or achieve higher conviction rates.
Senator Golding stated – “In the absence of compelling reasons, supported by clear data, Jamaica should be slow to impose on a single judge the grave task of deciding the guilt or innocence of a person accused of the crime of murder. Many reforms of the Justice System have come on stream over the past four years, including the recent revamping of plea bargaining. There are other agreed reforms that are still in the pipeline. All this significant effort needs to be given a chance to work.”
Senator Golding is urging the Government not to proceed further with the proposal to eliminate jury trials in the majority of murder cases, without first consulting broadly with the public, including the key stakeholders in the Justice System.