By LAMECH JOHNSON
Tribune Staff Reporter
A SUPREME Court judge barred nine citizens from serving as jurors for the next five years after declaring a mistrial in a rape, armed robbery and firearm possession case.
Justice Indra Charles exacted this measure having found that they might have been contaminated based on remarks and reports of their conduct in deliberation that were brought to her attention not long after excusing them to deliberate on a verdict in the case of 32-year-old Jamalio Laing.
Laing will now have to be retried at a date to be announced by the court.
The Tribune understands that the remarks made in the deliberation last Friday, which is intended to review the facts of the case in order to determine a verdict regarding the accused man’s innocence or guilt, consisted of personal and inappropriate comments made against the female victim, the police witnesses and officers of the court.
Justice Indra Charles, having received this information, recalled the jury and discharged them before they could deliver their verdict in the interest of justice to all sides.
According to the Bahamas’ Amended Juries Act, 2007, section 28 (1) “the judge may, in his discretion, in case of any emergency or casualty rendering it, in his opinion, expedient for the ends of justice so to do, discharge the jury without their giving a verdict, and direct a new jury to be empanelled during the sitting or may postpone the trial on such terms as justice may require.”
Last Friday’s result was an issue raised by the report of the Constitutional Commission last year when it recommended that the country do away with an automatic right to jury trials.
The report noted that several presenters, including former Chief Justice Sir Burton Hall, called for this move although it had not been unanimously supported.
The report further noted that the constitution guarantees a jury trial when a person is charged in the Supreme Court.
“That alone should signal that it might be necessary to look seriously at the utility of retaining such a provision,” the report said.
“But importantly it was never suggested that removing the constitutional right to trial by jury would introduce any unfairness to the system... the argument was that jury trial had the tendency to be arbitrary and unfair, in addition to the administrative evils associated with it.
“The commission agrees that the criminal justice system would be better served if there were not an automatic right to a trial by jury when charged on information in the Supreme Court. In our view, the constitution should authorise Parliament to prescribe by ordinary legislation the exceptional circumstances in which criminal matters may be tried by a judge alone.”
In early 2012, at a lecture series at the Harry C Moore Library hosted by the Eugene Dupuch Law School last month, Sir Burton 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.
Current Chief Justice Sir Michael Barnett, in that year’s legal opening, 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.”
Then Attorney General John Delaney, too, responded 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.
Court of Appeal president Justice Anita Allen 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.”