Five and a half hours was not enough time for the jury to decide on a verdict in the sedition trial of Jamaat-al-Muslimeen leader Yasin Abu Bakr yesterday. After taking almost double the allotted time assigned for their deliberations, Justice Mark Mohammed exercised his judicial discretion to discharge them and order a retrial for Bakr. Mohammed said considering the length of their deliberations, he could not foresee that they would be able come to a decision in a reasonable time. He said allowing the jury additional time might pressure them into deciding on a verdict, which would be unjust. Around 9.50 am yesterday, the all-female nine-member jury entered the jury room of the Port-of-Spain Third Criminal Court to begin their deliberations. When the end of their three-hour time limit came to an end, Mohammed asked the jury’s foreman if they had come to a unanimous decision on the four charges against Bakr. The foreman replied no and said more time was needed to arrive at verdicts for the charges.
Mohammed allowed the extension after he clarified a legal issue, in response to a request made by the jury. Around 4 pm, Mohammed recalled the jury and repeated his earlier question. The foreman again said a unanimous verdict had not be reached. At this stage, Mohammed asked the foreman to indicate the ratio they were divided on for each charge. Without revealing the exact details of their decision, the foreman explained that the jurors were divided five to four on the first charge of communicating a statement with a seditious intent and six to three on the charge of inciting others to demand money by menace. The foreman said at that moment she and her fellow jurors were undecided on the other two charges of inciting others to demand money by menace and endeavouring to provoke a breach of the peace. Before discharging them, Mohammed explained that he could not accept a majority verdict for the first two charges since legally seven jurors must agree to a particular verdict for a majority to be declared. Bakr’s trial first began in January this year when more than 1,000 potential jurors were summoned by the judiciary to be chosen to sit on the case. After a juror exemption process which lasted several weeks, a nine-member jury with six alternates was chosen.
Last week, as the trial reached its climax, Mohammed exercised his discretion and ordered that the jury panel be sequestered. Before discharging the jurors and allowing them to return home to their families, Mohammed thanked them for their service, saying they had done a good job during an “intense” trial. All four charges stem from Bakr’s controversial Eid-ul-Fitr sermon which was delivered at the Jamaat’s Mucurapo Road mosque on November 4, 2005. Bakr’s hour-long sermon centred around the Islamic principle of zakaat, which requires Muslims to donate a two and a half per cent of their wealth to charity. When confronted by media personnel outside of the Hall of Justice, Knox Street, Port-of-Spain, yesterday evening, Bakr who was surrounded by scores of his followers declined to comment on the case. Bakr, also known as Lennox Phillip, was represented by a legal team which included Wayne Sturge, Naveen Maraj and Hasine Sheikh. Special prosecutor Senior Counsel Dana Seetahal and state prosecutor Renuka Rambhajan represented the State in the trial.