Don't dismiss fear factor affecting jury duty
Director of Public Prosecutions Paula Llewellyn speaks with journalists.(PHOTO: MICHAEL GORDON)

Casting a ballot and jury service are two obligations of citizens in any country that upholds the tenets of democracy.

Indeed, the jury system is essentially democracy in action as it gives citizens the opportunity to participate in the rule of law by weighing evidence presented in court and arriving at decisions of vital importance grounded in life experience and devoid of bias.

We admit that there are times when some jurors are swayed by raw emotion, but generally the system delivers justice to people before the courts.

We therefore share Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Ms Paula Llewellyn's concern about the decreasing number of Jamaicans willing to serve as jurors.

Ms Llewellyn has said that what is at play here is a lack of civic pride: "You can't want justice and sit down in an armchair," she is quoted in this week's Sunday Observer.

She is, of course, correct. There are many people who readily criticise the justice system but refuse to participate to ensure justice is delivered.

We are, however, cognisant that fear is a contributory factor. That reality was very clear in the Sunday Observer story which quoted people who have dodged duty.

"Everybody involved in the justice system should understand why people may not be willing to set foot in a court," one woman told the newspaper.

"I have heard too many stories of people who agree and go to court and listen to certain cases and because of that their life is in danger," she added.

What also emerged was a deep distrust of individuals within the justice system. There are people who actually believe that their personal details will be shared with unsavoury characters.

The DPP, however, seems to have little sympathy for such fear. In fact, she believes "it's a cop-out".

That may be true in some instances, but we would urge Ms Llewellyn to avoid a wholesale dismissal of the argument. Her experience as a prosecutor, we believe, has given her enough evidence of the type of violence that resides in some individuals who will do almost anything to pervert the course of justice.

The question therefore is how does the country get more of its citizens to ensure that the justice system functions without fear or favour.

At the moment, Jamaicans are subjected to a sustained campaign to change the culture of silence in relation to crime, the whereabouts of wanted individuals, and the possession of illegal arms and ammunition. Preliminary information available to us is that the campaign is slowly reaping rewards. But that is expected given how ingrained the silence, mostly founded in fear.

Possibly the authorities could add to that campaign the importance of serving as jurors.

Our story on Sunday reported one woman who served last year saying that the "experience was good". We suspect there are others who may not mind sharing their experience, not only in the court but how the State ensured their security outside.

There is, of course, the issue of the somewhat small allowance paid to jurors for their service. However, as the DPP rightly pointed out, "Jury duty is not an opportunity for individuals to earn a living." We acknowledge that jury service does require some personal sacrifice, as it takes people away from their jobs and, for those who are not working, their homes. But the involvement in the country's democratic process, we believe, outweighs the sacrifice.

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