There should be no further delay in ending jury trials – Ramkarran
Former Speaker of the National Assembly Ralph Ramkarran says there should be no further delay in the ending of jury trials here.
In a column the last Sunday Stabroek, Ramkarran referred to a column he had done in June last year on this subject and adverted to a recent speech by Trinidadian Chief Justice Ivor Archie raising the question of whether jury trials should be abolished.
On September 16, Justice Archie in delivering the opening address to the 2013/14 law term reviewed the system of jury trials as he said there was concern that the quality of justice received was questionable.
He said that the Chief Justice pointed out that there is no constitutional right in Trinidad and Tobago to trial by jury, which Ramkarran says also applies in Guyana. However, the argument in support of jury trials is that “juries are more in touch with life on the ground and that somehow translates into a truer verdict.” Justice Archie argued that this is far less significant where the issue is the determination of the legal issue of guilt or innocence based on complex evidence for which juries are not trained.
Ramkarran said that another irresistible argument advanced by Chief Justice Archie is that due to the secrecy of the deliberations of juries, the determination of guilt or innocence is neither transparent nor accountable. The Chief Justice suggested that this violates the fundamental principles of transparency and accountability in the dispensation of justice. He noted that a magistrate or judge has to give reasons for decisions while juries do not.
While the Chief Justice advanced arguments in favour of abolition of jury trials, Ramkarran noted that he did not actually call for it. But he said that “we need to bite the bullet” and urged that a decision ought to be made on whether to continue trial by jury.
Restating the reasons for abolishing jury trials he had advanced last June, Ramkarran said: “In recent years the rate of conviction in jury trials in Guyana has declined considerably even taking into account investigatory deficiencies and prosecutorial lapses. Also, many convictions are overturned on appeal because of inadequate summing up by judges to juries. At the end of every criminal case tried in the High Court the Judge is required to assess the evidence and instruct the jury on the law. The number of appeals which have been upheld for this reason is extremely high.
“For these reasons there should no longer be any delay in consideration of the proposition that jury trials should be abolished with such safeguards as are necessary to protect the rights of accused persons and prevent state interference, but at the same time to reduce the possibility of guilty offenders escaping justice because of flaws and deficiencies in our system of justice.”
Ramkarran added: “I believe that on the scale of things, trial by jury is not an issue of paramount concern to most people. But crime is escalating and juries have continued to free the most violent criminals in the face of compelling evidence. I have not kept any figures and no statistics are published but I would not be surprised if less than five persons have been convicted in the last twenty trials. And it is not all because of faulty police investigations or incompetent prosecution.”