Serving as a juror
YOU HAVE met the requirements to be a juror. Your name was given by persons in your community or was taken from the electoral list. The list of prospective jurors would be sent to the Commissioner of Police to make sure you have no criminal record and once approval is given there is very little to prevent you from serving. So you are on! You may consider this as an honour, rather than a burden, to serve your country in this way. If you are working your employer must allow you the time to attend court. You cannot be fired because you have to serve as a juror. You would be paid a small stipend, this is normally disbursed at the end of the Assizes. Bus fare will be provided for those who need it. Lunch is also provided, but only when the jury is deliberating on a case in the jury room.
If you are related to the accused in the Assizes you must inform the Registrar of the High Court so that you could be exempted in that Assizes. If you live in the community with the accused you must inform the Registrar so that you could be excused from that particular case.
The bailiff of the court will serve you a summons personally. Accept it graciously. If you are ill you must present a doctor’s certificate to the Registrar of the High Court. The law requires at least 40 jurors to be present at the opening of the Assizes. The names of the jurors are arranged alphabetically on the list and each is given a number. The numbers are put in a box and are drawn at random. When your number is drawn it would correspond with your name. When your name is called you walk to the jury’s box that faces the dock (seat for the accused) in full view of the accused. Lawyer for the accused or the prosecutor may challenge you. If he is successful you cannot serve on that particular panel. Do not be disappointed if you are not chosen.
You can choose to make an oath holding the Bible or to affirm with your right hand raised. You swear/ affirm that you would faithfully try the several issues joined between the crown and the prisoner at the bar and a true verdict reached according to law. You are now part of the panel and you would be asked to choose a foreman who becomes the spokesman for the group. If you were not chosen for the case you would be dismissed. The judge will inform you about the return date.
Sessions begin at 9 o’clock and finish at 4 o’clock, with a break of one hour for lunch. There are times when a case can finish much later, especially if the jury has retired for the verdict.
It is therefore advisable for jurors to make appropriate arrangements for members of their family if they have to stay later than usual.
The prosecutor gives an overview of the case and the witnesses he will bring before you. You must listen very carefully to the witnesses and observe their demeanour so that you could reach a fair decision/verdict. The judge will advise you about the law. You could only consider evidence given before the court. You cannot use information you have heard outside the court. Relevant items (exhibits) associated with the crime would be produced in court. You would be allowed to view these closer in the jury room when you retire to make your decision.
Ada Johnson is a solicitor and barrister-at-law. E-mail address is: [email protected]