Trials that require a panel of jurors may soon be able to occur with a reduced complement after an amendment to the Jury Act 2009 received the green light in Parliament yesterday.
Should the bill be made law, the number of jurors serving on a panel will be reduced from 12 to nine.
Attorney General Steadroy Benjamin, who tabled the legislation during the sitting of the Lower House, explained that the government must take measures to ensure the safety of workers “in a situation where they are, by necessity, working closely with others”.
He said that the government is also considering the possibility of having “a very large room” in which jurors can sit to allow for physical distancing to mitigate against the spread of the Covid-19 virus.
“Mr Speaker, the Bar Council is on-board, the practitioners are on-board, and I can assure you that the judges are happy, too, because they, too, are concerned about their safety,” he said.
Jury trials have been suspended since last March due to Covid-19 concerns.
The AG said that the move to nine-member juries is not unheard of within the region since several countries had already made the move years ago.
“Since I assumed office in 2014, I was approached by members of the legal profession asking that I consider this move from 12 to nine; it has only become more relevant now because of the situation and times in which we live,” Benjamin explained.
In the initial discussions of the amendment, it was noted in the Bill’s explanatory note that there is no evidence to suggest that the reduction of jurors has affected the quality of verdicts – for the better or the worse.
However, evidence exists that it has allowed for the selection of smaller jury pools from which to empanel, and this is of great importance, especially in islands with a small population size where the recycling of panels is a concern.
It was noted that this would also lead to a reduction of cost to the government, as jurors not being paid for years after their service has been a recurring problem here in Antigua and Barbuda.