The leaned chief justice could not have said that!Friday, June 11, 2021
A story made print elsewhere on Wednesday, June 9, 2021 purportedly echoing Chief Justice Bryan Sykes' view on the jury system in Jamaica. The writer posited that the learned chief justice “made it clear that he was not an advocate of the jury system, which allows persons without legal training to make critical decisions”. The piece went on to ascribe to the chief justice a rather calloused and unflattering view of the value-input of jurors to the judicial process by his lament that “all a juror needs is to be able to read and write”.
With all due respect, this rather jaundice view of the jury system is unmerited. The system is not and was never perfect, but it has stood the test of time as an invaluable ally in the quest for justice. The practice of being judged by one's peers is pearly, rather than an irritant or obstacle in criminal jurisprudence, and is especially critical in post-colonial societies like ours as we endeavour to chart our way forward into tomorrow. It bolsters, rather than destroys the notion of fairness at trial. Indeed, as one colleague commented to me, since the constitution guarantees fair hearings, the learned chief justice could only have made the comment attributed to him if he is of the view that there was a preponderance of bad decisions by juries which were resulting in wrongful convictions, or that there exists evidence in which jurors intentionally arrive at their decisions by improper persuasions. In other words, wrong people were being convicted and guilty people being unlawfully set free. If there exists such data or evidence it should be made public.
Further, the chief justice's call for “greater use of technology” is not a novel concept. Technology, as it evolved over time, has always been employed where applicable to assist jurors in their decision-making. A specially trained cadre of professional jurors risks segregating poor, ordinary folks from decision-making in serious criminal cases. Consider that the same folks elect parliamentarians to make our laws and appoint the chief justice to head the judiciary to implement those laws; the idea that these same people should then be excluded from participation in the judicial process defies understanding and risks being labelled colonial-minded by some.
I, therefore, conclude that the chief justice did not, and could not be taken to have said that ascribed to him. I also do not believe that learned, erudite, senior lawyer Ernest A Smith agreed with “everything” purportedly said by the chief justice. I last saw Ernie two weeks ago at Bar. He was his usual, well-dressed self, and wearing his right mind. It is unthinkable that he could have suffered such calamitous decline in lucidity in so short a time for him to express concurrence with such confused rantings.
Delford G Morgan
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