I read with great interest about the jury system debate in Guyana and the proposed suggestions by Senior Counsel Ralph Ramkarran to abolish it, on the grounds of a number of cogent points.
I am a frequent reader of Mr Ramkarran’s writings, because they do not just educate but in most cases provide objectivity and a different perspective on a variety of subject matter.
However, the learned counsel’s position on the jury system should not be supported and I happen to agree with Attorney General Anil Nandlall’s proposal, which is to reform the system rather than abolish it.
We who are alive, are fortunate to live at a time in which we have the potential to learn perhaps more from history than did our ancestors, but it seems that though technology and information have increased, our memories have only grown shorter and we quickly forget. We have forgotten the value of those fundamentals that preserve liberty and justice.
One such fundamental is that sovereignty resides in the people. This being the case we can say that the people are masters of their own governments and thus superior to them; they are the creator, the government the created. A corollary of this superiority is that people have the rightful power to check their own government, to keep it within the bounds of what is lawful and constitutional.
Centuries ago Thomas Jefferson said, “I consider Trial by Jury as the only anchor yet imagined by man, by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution.” The right to trial by jury stands as one of the most effective checks against the tyranny of government and as Winston Churchill said, “It is the supreme protection invented by the people for ordinary individuals against the state.”
A jury is a tribunal of the people (or country) that is randomly selected, the jurors are independent of the government and thus bear no vested interest in the same. Further, they are representative of the full range of views, morality and common sense that exist among the people.
A recurring principle of common law is that the power to make decisions of great importance and consequence is retained by the people and never delegated to government. Thus a jury is convened to make decisions regarding the guilt or otherwise of those accused of breaking the law – a decision which is so vital that it is not entrusted to government.
The jury is thus a powerful tribunal in preserving liberty, for without its consent the government may punish no person and all its unjust laws and oppressive application of laws are of no effect. Trial by jury is the final legal check on tyranny and thus a hallmark of and safeguard for a truly free people. It is thus vital we defend that right for ourselves and our children.
In reforming this system that has proven in many societies to work, there should certainly be an increase in the pool of selections and I agree that the voters list should be used for such selection. There should also be recording devices in the criminal courts which will most certainly result in swifter justice being served.
A tyrant will always find a pretext for his tyranny. So it is useless for the innocent to seek justice through reasoning when the oppressor intends to be unjust.
The jury system should remain to preserve liberty and justice.