DPP says jury duty is a civic responsibility

DIRECTOR of Public Prosecutions Paula Llewellyn, KC, says while calls for an increase in the stipend for jurors are justified, it should be remembered that jury duty is not a nine-to-five job, but a civic duty.

The shortage of jurors to try cases in the courts islandwide, since the resumption of jury trials in April last year following their suspension in March of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, is being described as the lowest in several years.

Responding to sentiments during a Rotary Club of Kingston meeting on Thursday that the “pittance” ($2,000 per day) paid to jurors could be the reason individuals have shunned the summons, the director of public prosecutions said public perception about the issue is skewed.

“It should be noted that jury duty is not an opportunity for individuals to earn a living; it is part of their civic duty,” the DPP said while noting that the recommendation for the increase in jury allowances is the purview of the Court Administration Division (CAD).

“I feel sure that that will be done…and the policymakers will not hesitate to increase, the question is by how much because remember jury duty is not an occupation for you to learn a living. Jury duty is supposed to be part and parcel of your civic duty. It is just unfortunate that we have a situation where transportation costs have gone up significantly. I think the last time they increased the stipend was about 10-12 years ago so it really needs to be reviewed,” the DPP stated.

In the meantime, she said the notion that jurors should receive an attractive pay package is a tasteless one.

“Even if it is reviewed, as far as I am concerned that what a juror is being asked to do after hearing the evidence and the direction from the judge is to use their common sense to assess and come to a verdict. I think there is something unseemly about the thought of paying a juror a whole bag of money as if to say it is their occupation. No, it is not,” the DPP said.

“The stipend is to see to their day-to-day expenses which are transportation and perhaps refreshment. What is supposed to be the palpable quality coming from a juror is integrity,” she added.

Referencing the matter involving a juror who was found guilty of attempting to pervert the course of justice for trying to bribe the foreman and other jurors to return a not guilty verdict in return for $500,000 in the infamous trial of dancehall artiste Adijah Palmer (Vybz Kartel), she said “because of civic pride, because of integrity, because of ethical conduct, all the jurors with the exception of that one recognised that they had their duty as citizens to be honest and they came back with a not guilty verdict”.

Addressing the concerns that fear might be a hindrance to individuals showing up for jury duty, the DPP pointed out that individuals are placed in a pool and do not know beforehand which case they will be assigned to. Jurors during the empanelling process are able to indicate whether they know the accused, relatives or witnesses and can be excused.

Said Llewellyn: “I’ve been a prosecutor for 35 years and I have never heard of a juror being attacked or assaulted whether before the case, during or after. The contact information of the jurors is highly confidential [and] only the registrar would know. The juror is known by a number, so neither the juror nor the accused know each other or the witnesses; what is there to fear?”

She noted further that “very often at the end of the day’s proceedings, the jurors are released first”.

“They leave the building and then the adjournment is taken; most times jurors upon speaking to them after, say they enjoyed the process. I would encourage everyone, when you get the summons, please come out and your duty,” the DPP added.

In November last year, the CAD told the Observer that of the 1,500 Jamaicans summoned for duty during that session of the court, only 33 showed. Jurors are not summoned for specific cases but are called for a particular period and placed in a pool from which they are then empanelled for different cases after orientation.

The CAD is responsible for issuing summonses to people for jury duty. Summonses are issued to the police for distribution to selected citizens who are expected to report to the court specified in the summons, on the date stipulated.

Failing to turn up for jury duty when summoned can result in a fine not exceeding $10,000.

In Jamaica, the Jury Duty Act stipulates who qualifies to serve.

Any Jamaican, living in the country, between the ages of 18 and 69, who has a Tax Registration Number (TRN) or is registered to vote, can be selected for jury duty.

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