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Trial without jury in criminal cases

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Fri, Jun 29. 2012

Editor: Magna Carta of 1215 secured trial by jury – 12 men to make a decision or examine findings of fact which are then appled by a judge. As time went on, females were allowed to sit as jurors and now because of numerous reasons, some Caribbean jurisdictions want to remove trial by jury and place it solely in the hands of judges.{{more}}

Belize is the first jurisdiction in the Caribbean Community to introduce the new measure and this was done last August when the Indictable Procedure (Amendment) Act and Juries (Amendment) Act were passed; but the new law in that English speaking Central American country, which was under British rule up to 30 years ago, only allows judges alone to hear murder, abetment of murder, and conspiracy to commit murder. The law also allows the prosecution to apply for trial without a jury, where there is a danger of witnesses tampering or where the trial is likely to be burdensome to the jury. Another instance is where an accused person is of the view that because of pretrial publicity he is unlikely to have a fair trial.

Guyanese born Chief Justice of Belize, Kenneth Benjamin, presided at the first non jury trial a few months ago and he found the accused guilty of attempting to murder a well-known Senior Counsel in Belize. The accused was jailed for 15 years.

Trinidad and Tobago is contemplating amendment of its laws to accommodate trial by judge alone. The Minister of Justice, Herbert Volney, the Attorney General, Anand Ramlogan and the Legal Affairs Minister, Prakash Ramadhar have all agreed to the change in order to expedite the hearing of cases.

Volney, speaking at a conference of Commonwealth North Atlantic Law Ministers in Port of Spain recently, said that the issue remains an affordable option to find ways to deal with the backlog of cases. He said that recently a murder trial took seven to eight months and the jury failed to arrive at a verdict. He said it was the second time that the jury failed to agree and could not understand how 24 jurors were unable to decide if the accused was guilty or not guilty.

Another point raised by Volney, a former judge, was that jurors were reluctant to serve, since many of them took steps to be exempted. He said that Magistrates conduct important summary trials without jurors and the Legal Affairs Minister spoke of jury tampering, which he said is not unusual.

However, persons not in favour of the change spoke of political influence and the need for trial by your peers and pointed out that a judge is only one person and it is better to have trials by nine or twelve persons. Another option is trial by three judges instead of one.

We live in a changing world and it is necessary at times to implement new and meaningful measures.

Jamaica, sometime ago, was contemplating to do likewise, but nothing was done to introduce the change.

Oscar Ramjeet

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