Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : July 7th 2014 Contents A6
Guardian www.guardian.co.tt Monday, July 7, 2014
Only a madman or a dictator
would want to abolish trial by
jury. It is the only aspect of the
criminal justice process in which
ordinary citizens have a say.
Judges are not incorruptible or
This was the consensus among
criminal lawyers whom the T&T
Guardian interviewed on sugges-
tions by Chief Justice Ivor Archie
that the jury system should be
abolished. Most of them firmly
Some, on the other hand, felt
juries can make decisions totally
contrary to the evidence, based on
threats, and the absence of a jury
system might not necessarily
adversely affect a case.
Archie s suggestion comes 170
years after the jury system was
introduced into T&T by the British.
The system of trying criminal mat-
ters by a jury remains in the former
motherland and in other developed
countries like the United States
The CJ s call to end the system
was made at the June 14 sympo-
sium in honour of the late Dana
Seetahal, which was titled "Re-
engineering the Criminal Justice
It follows on another suggestion
he made last year at the opening
of the law term, in which he asked
for the reformation of the jury sys-
Noting recently that 500 people
are awaiting trial for murder, and
telling of lengthy delays in the
criminal justice process, he said,
"I know I am sailing into choppy
waters but I have to say it: we have
a jury, which is the most inefficient
way for conducting a trial.
"Abolish juries and take a serious
look at our words of evidence, in
particular the rule of law, against
Archie s call was endorsed by
Criminal Bar Association member
Gilbert Peterson, SC.
"I also think we need to elim-
inate jury trials, because you have
a jury there sitting for months lis-
tening to evidence.
"But you are telling them com-
plex concepts that law students
will take years sometimes to
understand," Peterson said.
Endorsing a call by Attorney
General Anand Ramlogan for spe-
cial juries, Peterson said, "I think
it would be advancing the system
if you are able to eliminate juries."
Legal sources believed the idea
of abolishing juries was coming
from within the Government and
was being supported by the CJ and
But many of their colleagues at
the criminal bar, and others in dif-
ferent aspects of law, disagree,
some citing that the very law
schools they attended taught that
juries were to be regarded as a
Moves to do away with juries
are also being made in Guyana.
The Guyana Times recently report-
ed that the criminal bar association
there is urging a review of the jury
system. Guyana s Attorney General
and Legal Affairs Minister Anil
Nandlall said society had lost con-
fidence in the jury system and his
government would be taking steps
to reform it this year.
Lawyers on CJ's call for end to jury trials:
"I am totally against it," said Israel
"Only a madman and a dictator will
want to abolish trial by jury. It is an
opportunity for ordinary, God-fearing
citizens to participate in the criminal
justice process. They look at the facts
"How will letting judges alone
decide criminal cases clear
Khan added, "They feel juries
sometimes return a verdict not in
keeping with evidence (because of
fear and other factors) and could be
"Are they saying judges cannot be
corrupted or be fearful? I want to
know why they want this."
Khan said this was not the first
time such a suggestion had been
made and recalled that an attorney
general in the last PNM
administration, John Jeremie, SC,
also made a similar call.
Attorney Jagdeo Singh, one of the
state attorneys at last year's
commission of inquiry into the
attempted coup, also disagreed with
the CJ's suggestion.
"I don't think the jury system adds
any complexity to the criminal justice
system. We need to look at more
effective case management to deal
Singh said juries are used in
developed countries all over the
world, including some parts of
Canada, Britain, the US and Australia.
Former attorney general Ramesh
Lawrence Maharaj, a longstanding
criminal lawyer, said juries were
regarded as a safeguard for a fair
"It is based on the presumption of
innocence of an accused person.
Abolishing juries is undemocratic and
not in the interest of public justice."
Maharaj said backlogs of cases
were no reason to abolish juries and
added that delays in judgments by
judges were one cause of the
"If judges are left to decide cases,
will it increase or decrease delays?"
President of the Chaguanas
Lawyers Association Richard Sirju
agreed with his colleagues that juries
should not be abolished.
"It is the right of an accused person
to be assessed by his peers as far as
the facts of the case go.
"A jury is responsible for assessing
facts. Judges are responsible for
assessing the law. If you take away
the jury's role and put it in the hands
of a judge, you run the risk of having
a one-sided function.
"Right now, we have a balance. The
social aspect of justice is brought
into the mix. A people-centred
criminal justice system is absolutely
essential," Sirju said.
Citing the Brad Boyce case, he said
owing to a legal technicality, the case
was never put to the jury and the
judge (Herbert Volney) dismissed the
charges. Sirju said the court of public
opinion disagreed with the outcome
and Volney himself on the hustings
years later, said he made a mistake.
Sirju also recalled that Yasin Abu
Bakr and 113 Muslimeen were freed
by the Privy Council on a legal
technicality after they staged the
July 1990 attempted overthrow of
"These are examples where the
legal aspect trumped the jury, to our
Former PNM minister Fitzgerald
Hinds, an attorney, said the party had
not caucused on the issue as yet and
did not have an official position.
Hinds said he was sure the PNM is
prepared to take all reasonable action
to improve the criminal justice
system and will give serious
consideration to the issue if it comes
Giving his own opinion, he said in
many countries judges alone, without
juries, decide serious criminal
"In the magistrates' courts here
too, judges decide cases. It is the
indictable matters that are for
juries.The absence of juries does not
adversely affect cases.
"In Ireland, juries were abolished
because they were tainted by threats
and could have made decisions
totally contrary to the evidence."
Former head of the Public
Service and founder of the 50-
year-old family law firm KR Lalla
and Co, Kenneth Lalla, said he
believed accused people should
be tried by their peers, not
anybody else, to ensure
transparency and fairness.
Lalla, who published a booklet
many years ago on jury service
and distributed it free of charge,
said juries were a symbol of
public involvement in the justice
Over the years, juries have
proven to be quite satisfactory,
he said, and while it might be
under review in the UK and the
US, those countries may or may
not abolish the system.
He added, though, that it was a
complex issue and abolishing the
system may be the way to go.
"Jurors may want to deliberate
longer than a judge," he said,
referring to delays in cases.
San Fernando attorney Lena
Subiah, who opened her own
firm after graduating from the
Hugh Wooding Law School
recently, believed there are pros
and cons in abolishing juries.
She said lawyers are taught
the jury is sacrosanct and noted
that those convicted generally
accept the views of the jury.
She added, however, "In small
countries where jurors are
known, you run the risk of jury
tampering. In the Abu Bakr trial,
for instance, the whole jury
system was under siege because
of the fear factor.
"You never heard of a local
judge being gunned down after a
judgment. Judges are generally
well protected. But the average
citizens, who comprise juries,
cannot afford that kind of
Subiah also added jurors
sometimes hardly understood
Gilbert Peterson, SC
Chief Justice Ivor Archie
Up until 1844, all police
stations in T&T served as
courthouses and magistrates
travelled from one station to
another to hear cases.
In October 1844 trial by jury
and the English statutes were
introduced into Trinidad.
An ordinance was
established to introduce trial by
jury and to make other
provisions for assimilating the
laws of the colony relating to
criminal offences to the laws of
System not quite ready
HISTORY OF JURIES
TOTALLY AGAINST ABOLITION
SOME PLUSES TO REMOVAL
Israel Khan, SC
Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj
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