Jury trials are scheduled to recommence in the High Court of Justice after an almost two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Jurors were expected to show up to Court today, May 9, for orientation. However, those summoned to appear for the start of the May assizes have been instructed to report on Tuesday, May 10, at 9 a.m., instead.
The Court-issued notice did not give reasons for the change, but it apologized for the inconvenience caused.
Meanwhile, one attorney is happy that trials will resume in the normal way and that persons will be judged by a jury of their peers.
In highlighting the drawbacks of a trial by a single judge, Leon Chaku Symister makes specific reference to the Harry Josiah case in which the judge admitted an error in upholding a no-case submission made by Josiah’s lawyer.
The seasoned attorney is also concerned about health issues that could arise in a judge-alone case, since verdicts are often not given right away as in jury trials.
He says this type of situation creates anxiety issues for the accused.
The seasoned attorney says that in Antigua and Barbuda’s judicial history – as in most parts of the world – persons are judged by a jury of their peers, and he believes this is a fairer way of dispensing justice.
When jury trials were suspended on account of the pandemic, legislation was passed that allowed judge-alone trials to take place and prevent a backlog of cases.
However, under the Act, only certain cases, including fraud and larceny, could be tried in that manner. More serious offenses, such as murder, have to be tried by a jury once the accused pleads not guilty.
Additionally, the new legislation reduced the number of jurors on a panel from 12 to nine.