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AG: Trial by jury not a right

CLINT CHAN TACK Wednesday, March 15 2017

ATTORNEY General Faris Al-Rawi yesterday declared that trial by jury is not an absolute right in this country.

The AG made this point as he opened debate on the Trial by Judge Alone Bill 2017 in the Senate. Referring to Section 5 of the Constitution, Al-Rawi stated, “There is no direct reference to a trial by jury.” He said this position was reinforced by Chief Justice Ivor Archie in his speech at the opening of the law term on September 16, 2015.

Al-Rawi said on that occasion, Archie indicated, “There is no right to a jury trial.” He explained that Archie said, “There is a right to a public and fair trial before an independent and impartial tribunal.” Listing several other eminent jurists and legal entities which Government consulted with on this legislation, Al-Rawi declared, “Not a soul has said that the bill requires a three fifths majority or in fact is unconstitutional.” Al- Rawi said the Privy Council also indicated in one of its judgements, “There is no entrenched right to a trial by jury.” He described attempts by the Opposition to allege that the bill required a special majority for passage as the United National Congress (UNC), “trying to build up a straw man to beat it down again.” Al-Rawi disclosed that unlike the former People’s Partnership (PP) government which sought to totally abolish trial by juries, this legislation offered a choice between trial by judge alone or trial by judge and jury.

Noting that Archie has also said “the jury system is not working,” Al-Rawi said this is reflected in the statistics. He said as of March 9, “the convicted, together with the Remand population stands at 3,634 (people).” Al-Rawi said the Remand population is 2,159 people and within that figure, 839 have been granted bail but are still in prison because they cannot access bail.

Al-Rawi said 8,600 jurors were summoned last year. However 1,170 applications for exemptions were presented, 1,195 were granted and 75 were refused. According to Al-Rawi, the data suggested that the manpower hours spent with respect to juries from 2011 to 2014 could cost $10.3 million.

Cutting through the statistics, Al-Rawi said what cannot be denied is that “a murder is a murder is a murder.” He also said what the bill seeks to advance, along with other pieces of legislation which Government has brought or is in the process of bringing to Parliament is that, “there must be some consequence to criminality.” Noting that 22 Commonwealth countries no longer do trials by jury, Al-Rawi said, “Judges are not necessarily persons born with gold and silver spoons in their mouths.” He added that judges, “have the ability to have proper minds when considering matters.

Explaining that a judge is required to give written reasons on facts and on the law, Al-Rawi said, “Those written reasons take one to a better position because juries, when they come up with their determination are not required to say

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