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Where are the jurors?

Judge wants probe into process of serving summonses for persons to serve

BY PAUL HENRY Crime/Court Desk co-ordinator henryp@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, September 20, 2012    

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JUSTICE Lloyd Hibbert wants a probe into the process of serving summonses for citizens to serve as jurors. He made the call following several complaints from attorneys in the Home Circuit Court about the matter after the registrar of the Criminal Registry of the Home Circuit Court spoke of the small number of people who turned out for jury duty at Monday's opening of the court's Michaelmas term.

Hibbert was told that of the 1,000 summonses were issued by the Criminal Registry to be served, just more than 100 were actually served and of that number only 50 persons showed up for jury duty.

"That's something that needs to be [investigated]," Justice Hibbert said.

The matter of jury shortage has been often cited as one of the main factors behind the postponement of trials, resulting in what has grown to 588 cases for the new term. Three hundred and forty of those 588 cases for trial are for murder, some of which include multiple accused persons, which require a large pool of jurors to select from.

Attorney Linton Walters complained to Hibbert that from what he has observed it seemed that summonses issued were not being served. The names for prospective jurors are taken from the voters' list.

Attorney Valerie Neita-Robertson said that only two police officers were serving summonses in the Corporate Area, adding that the Advocates Association of Jamaica, of which she is a part, has been recommending for some time now that if summonses are to be served in particular places the police in those areas are to effect the service.

Justice Hibbert said he would ensure that the recommendation is taken up.

Meanwhile, Senior Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions Lisa Palmer-Hamilton, who was commenting earlier on behalf of the Crown during the opening of the circuit, lamented the devastating effects of insufficient jurors on the criminal justice system. She said Court 8, which deals with sexual offences, did not sit for more than a week last term due to a lack of jurors. "It's a very troubling situation," Palmer Hamilton said, to the agreement of Chief Justice Zaila McCalla.

Adding to the problem, Palmer-Hamilton said the Home Circuit Court was sharing of jurors with the St Thomas Circuit, which is also held on the building Supreme Court building. She said the situation needed to be rectified as soon as possible.

In the meantime, Justice McCalla said that there were also a number of other things hampering the timely delivery of justice, including a lack of resources and insufficient judges. "In this Jamaica land we love we all have an interest in seeing that the system works properly," she said.

Ian Wilkinson, president of the Jamaican Bar Association, as well as Palmer-Hamilton described the trial list as "formidable".

"I cannot see how a dent can be made in this list without concentrated effort," Wilkinson said.

Palmer-Hamilton, who added that 100 cases were disposed of last term, said she hoped the new term would be far more productive.

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