To the casual, undiscerning mind the chief justice's continued broadside against the jury system can, understandably, lead to the conclusion that it is an inherent and persisting sore in the administration of criminal justice in Jamaica. That view is as unfortunate as it is unfounded.
The chief justice's call for jury abolition in criminal cases is not preceded by the shining of light on the vices which plague juries' delivery of justice. Rather, he paints them black, obscuring their virtues and centrality to our freedom and democracy, as well as the right to mass participation in the administration of justice.
Indeed, the Court Administration Division (CAD) provides data showing that juries statistically returned more guilty verdicts than trial judges sitting alone. Further, there is no complaint that their verdicts are so skewed or outrageous to call into question the utility or reliability of jury trials.
It certainly is not their shame that the courts do not offer them pens and notebooks during trials, as is done for judges and prosecutors. It also cannot be their remit to provide themselves safe, convenient seating in our not fit for purpose courtrooms. This is beyond even the expansive remit of a chief justice.
It is unrelentingly startling, therefore, that the chief justice clamours for jury abolition on the above grounds. Whatever the true reason, it remains clear that the jury system is more than an irritant.
It is incontestable that the jury system is in urgent need of overhaul. Presently, it seems only the poor and unemployed, and largely self-employed, are called for duty. The rich, business elite, civil servants, and professionals are not. Some of those called are not reimbursed transportation cost or given a lunch stipend. It is these matters that one supposes the chief justice would seriously lean to remedy, rather than seeking to cull the blameless. The latter would not provide poultice to the other administrative and structural maladies that plagues the delivery of justice.
Reality has a way of mocking dreams. Shortly after his appointment to office, the chief justice waxed mightily of his vision to make Jamaica's judiciary the envy of the world in six years. But there was no corresponding plan to upgrade the institutional and infrastructural failings, without which dreams will never become real. For instance, the constipated backlog in the Circuit Courts are not the fault of jurors as much as they are not the fault of trial judges; it is more the folly of fanciful dreams of Jack reaching the top of the world by climbing his beanstalk, and by defying the logic and scriptural injunct of seeking to pour new wine in old casks.
I will close by clutching two limbs: Firstly, despite the constitutional trilogy in which it is entrenched, the judiciary must strive to be its own shepherd. It must never be seen as making promises that are outside its ability to deliver. And so, when a judge speaks, there shouldn't be the faintest misapprehension that there is a tongue, other than his, in his mouth; for he has no master, save the law. Lastly, I remind of the words of Lord Camdem, “Trial by jury is indeed the foundation of our free constitution; take that away and the whole fabric soon moulder into dust.”
Delford G Morgan