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Top Judge: Jury Trials Not Unfair

By LAMECH JOHNSON

Tribune Staff Reporter

ljohnson@tribunemedia.net

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Justice Anita Allen

APPELLATE Court president Justice Anita Allen expressed her support of the jury system in criminal trials yesterday though she admitted that the system needed reform.

During a special sitting ceremony by the Court of Appeal yesterday morning, Justice Allen responded to the recent criticism and suggestion that juries should be eliminated from criminal trials in the Supreme Court, the suggestion that was given by former Chief Justice Sir Burton Hall that prompted responses from Chief Justice Sir Michael Barnett and the Attorney General John Delaney.

"I wish to add my voice to those of the chief justice and the attorney general relative to the state of the former chief justice, Sir Burton Hall, which he himself recognized as bold and conceivably heretical, that in The Bahamas of 2012, the system of trial by jury is inefficient, prodigal of resources, and ultimately unfair."

She admitted that "the jury system is not perfect, nor are bench trials for that matter."

"Both have their downsides and while I agree jury trials are less efficient and more costly than bench trials, I don't agree they are ultimately unfair."

The former chief justice, while speaking at a lecture series at the Harry C Moore Library hosted by the Eugene Dupuch Law School last month, recommended the Bahamas move away from a jury system as it is "inefficient" and "costly".

Sir Burton said the jury system in the Bahamas is not the most efficient process for the criminal justice system and is not worth the time and expense.

Sir Michael disagreed with the statement at the official opening of the judiciary's legal year on January 11.

He talked of the necessity of the system by saying that jury duty is a part of the constitution as long as it remains there.

"Our constitution guarantees a trial by jury for certain serious offences," he explained. "Although some have argued that this entrenched right should be revisited, as long as it remains a constitutional right, serving on a jury is a fundamental right in our society."

Attorney General Delaney responded a few days prior to the chief justices' comments, saying that while seeming like a good idea in theory, it is not very practical at this point.

"Many countries in the Commonwealth have moved away from juries, over 20 jurisdictions moved away from it in some way. A change like this for us would require constitutional amendments because every criminal trial in the Supreme Court is guaranteed to be heard by a jury," he said.

Justice Allen acknowledged the chief justice and attorney general's link to the constitution.

"Indeed, not only is the right to a fair trial guaranteed by the constitution, but there are strong procedural safeguards in our criminal statutes to ensure fairness."

She added that the existence of the appellate court and the Privy Council are avenues available to "substantially reducing the risk of unfair trials."

"I believe jury trial will be an important feature of our criminal justice system for sometime to come. But I concede some reform is necessary to make the system more cost effective and efficient."

"Whatever reforms we undertake," she added, "I believe our goal should be to maintain a system in which the public has confidence that if charged with criminal a offence they can be fairly judged in an open and representative system of justice."

She quoted the late Lord Denning, recognised as the "most brilliant and revolutionary English lawyer of the century": "When a man is on trial for serious crime, trial by jury has no equal."

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