HEAD of the judiciary, Chief Justice Bryan Sykes, says among the issues hobbling the juror selection process is the “proliferation of gated communities in Kingston and across the island”.
Speaking at a swearing-in ceremony for 12 members of the judiciary as Judges of Appeal, Puisne Judges and Masters-in–Chambers at King’s House in St Andrew on Monday morning, Justice Sykes said such developments are presenting a challenge to the police in getting into these communities to serve the documents on the requisite persons.
“So all of those things combined result in small numbers of persons turning up as jurors. And then when you go along the north coast — let’s say from St Mary going down to Hanover — you have a number of hotels, you have financial institutions, so that would tend to suggest that you have managers, supervisors, persons within financial institutions, [yet] when you look at the jury pool you hardly see any of these persons appearing in the courts as jurors and so the jury service tends to fall, disproportionately I think, on persons who can least afford it,” Justice Sykes said.
Jurors currently receive a $2,000 per day stipend. That stipend has not been increased for almost 10 years.
In reinforcing the point which he raised weeks ago Justice Sykes stressed, “It is not an intelligence question now, it is just a simple fact that many of the persons who turn up for jury service simply don’t have the economic means to serve as jurors because, in essence, they have to fund their travels and bear the expenses — and under the present system only those who are selected as jurors receive a stipend at the end.”
In noting that individuals who travel for great lengths and are not empanelled have to bear their own costs, the chief justice said a significant number of jurors do not have bank accounts or accounts with financial institutions, making it so that their meagre stipend is further depleted in paying bank fees for cashing their cheques.
“So the small sum they get for juror service — and they are only paid for the days when they are actually sitting — so, unsurprisingly, when all this news gets back into the communities I don’t think there will be many enthusiastic persons willing to turn up as jurors,” Justice Sykes noted.
According to the chief justice, who in the past has called for the elimination of the juror system, if the authorities intend to retain this sytem then there has to be improvement.
“We have to revisit how we manage the juror system; if we are going to keep it we have to do significantly better than we are doing. Just starting with the simple thing of accommodation for the persons. They come and they serve in very difficult and uncomfortable circumstances: standing under trees outside, and if the rain falls then that presents its own challenges. The rooms they are asked to retire to, to deliberate, are oftentimes cramped and uncomfortable so if we are going to retain the jury system we need to treat out citizens much better,” he said.
Jury trials resumed in April 2022 after being suspended from March 2020 when Jamaica recorded its first case of the novel coronavirus.
Jurors are chosen from all parishes and the number selected varies, largely dependent on the case count before the Circuit Court. Jurors are not summoned for specific cases but are called for a particular period and placed in a pool from which they are then empanelled for different cases, after orientation. The Jury Duty Act stipulates who qualifies to serve. Any Jamaican living in the country between the ages of 18 and 69 and who has a Tax Registration Number (TRN) or is registered to vote can be selected for jury duty.
The Court Administration Division (CAD) is responsible for issuing summonses to people for jury duty. Summonses are issued to the police for distribution to selected citizens who are expected to report to the court specified on the date stipulated. Failing to turn up for jury duty when summoned can result in a fine not exceeding $10,000.
Last April, reports from the CAD indicated low juror turnout, specifically in the parishes of Kingston and St Andrew, St James, Clarendon, and St Catherine.