Sixty-four per cent of all cases pending in the Port of Spain courts have been there for over 15 years. So said Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi as he piloted the Offences against the Person Amendment (Trial by Judge) Act in the Senate yesterday.
Noting that under the criminal procedure laws, an accused must have a trial before a judge and jury once he enters a not-guilty plea, the Attorney General said “this law seeks to allow for an accused to elect a judge-only trial”.
“The views expressed so far, in particular coming from the judiciary and coming from eminent jurists...is that if the system is not being improved, that there should be a move away from jury trial. And the allegations [that the jury system is not working] are pegged on the [slow] pace of the criminal justice system, the time that it takes to impanel juries, move them back and forth, the cost involved in that, the cost involved in sequestration,” he said.
The Attorney General said it cost hundreds of millions of dollars annually for trials by juries. He said the cost translated into legal fees was $260 million, plus an annual cost of $320,000 for sequestration of a jury, plus a direct cost of $10.3 million. He said the costs of the Vindra Naipaul trial was $60 million. He said 22 countries in the Commonwealth had “let go” of jury trials.
Jury system not working
The AG said unlike a jury trial, the proposed amendment would require a judge in a judge-only trial to give written reasons for his/her decision.
He said the arguments in support of a judge-only trial cite jury intimidation, jury interference, jurors looking at matters that they ought not to consider such as research on the Internet or publicity, which can affect the mindset of the juror.
The Attorney General quoted the speech given by Chief Justice Ivor Archie at the opening of the 2015/2016 Law Term in which the CJ noted that 15-20 per cent of sitting time was lost as a result of jury management (such as jury's illness, exams, lateness, family funerals, etc).
Al-Rawi noted the CJ in reflecting on the jury system, concluded that it was not working.
Quoting from the CJ speech, he noted Archie had said if the country wanted to continue with this inefficient and ineffective system, it was free to do so, but “don't blame me (Archie)” [for the delays in justice].
Al-Rawi also noted former attorney general Anand Ramlogan had also stated he wanted to abolish trial by jury for violent and blood crimes.