Last update: 11-Dec-2013 5:04 pm
Wednesday, December 11, 2013
Trinidad & Tobago Guardian Online
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Mixed views on abolishing trials by jury
The suggestion to abolish jury trials for all criminal offences has received mixed reviews from members of the legal fraternity. Attorney General Anand Ramlogan said the proposal was nothing new as it was discussed with Opposition members during crime talks three weeks ago at the International Waterfront Centre, Wrightson Road, Port-of-Spain.
Ramlogan, who said he took a note on the issue to Cabinet a year ago, described the proposal as a “revolutionary change for the criminal justice system.” He, however, admitted the initiative should be introduced on a phased basis. “I favour a phased approach and perhaps an introduction with violent crime, gun-related and drug-trafficking offences in the first instance,” Ramlogan said, during a telephone interview yesterday. He said once public confidence was gained then the initiative could be extended.
Speaking at the opening of the 2013/2014 law term on Monday, Chief Justice Ivor Archie suggested the abolition of jury trials for all criminal offences as opposed to just for serious crimes. He complained jury trials were too expensive and inefficient. Archie urged the removal of jury trials would improve the criminal justice system.
Contacted yesterday, Senior Counsel Dana Seetahal said the reason to abolish the trials should not be done to ease the backlog of cases alone. She said: “I think there are others reasons. If it is that the jury trial system is not functioning, as it is desired, then that will be one basis for abolishing it. “But remember you have this system of jury trials which we inherited from the English since time immemorial. I don’t think it is something that should likely be abolished.
“It has to be assessed properly for what offences. It is not something I suggest could ever come across totally.” She drew reference to the United Kingdom, where jury trials have been abolished for serious fraud cases. She added: “They have opted to go for judge trials because of the technical nature of the matters.” The notion of being tried by peers also has been entrenched in society, Seetahal said. “Persons have been saying that they trust the jury system more because of being tried by their peers.
“Should that be supplanted by one single judge when you are dealing with something as sacrosanct as the liberty of the citizens... so that is really a serious matter,” Seetahal said. Saying public’s perception was also critical to the success of the initiative she added there were instances where “some judges have shown themselves in the past not to be as “sound as you like.” Attorney and public relations officer of the PNM Faris Al-Rawi yesterday welcomed the suggestion by the Chief Justice.
Al-Rawi who practices civil law said he had witnessed reforms in the civil justice system through aggressive implementation of “reformed civil procedure rules and tighter application of the judiciary’s tolerance for delays in the system. “I am also well accustomed to a judge as a sole arbiter. There is clear logic and merit in the Chief Justice’s considerations as to the abolition of trials by jury,” Al-Rawi added. He said the PNM was considering the party’s position in relation to “this issue and larger reforms.”
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