The Commission of Inquiry (COI) report recommended that consideration should be given to increasing the size of the BVI’s jury pool by changing the criteria to enable and require those who are long-term residents for 10 years or more to sit on juries.
But while debating the proposed Jury Act of 2022 in the House of Assembly yesterday, Fraser said this was a ‘total no-no’ for him.
“They’re asking us to add persons who hold a certificate of residence. Just simply holding a certificate of residence and being between the ages of 18 and 70; you are eligible to be a juror, save for the exemptions that are in the bill. I do not, and I will say it again, I do not agree with that,” Fraser stated.
He noted that the current jury pool only consists of a little more than 1,000 people and questioned why all Belongers were not being used for the jury pool. Under the existing legislation, Belongers are only eligible to be jurors once they are registered to vote. But Fraser argued that many Belongers are not registered on the voters’ list.
“You have an enormous amount of people on that list. Like I said, it’s 13,500. And from that 13,500 you’re telling me still that you’re having problems with your pool for the jury? I have an issue with that,” Fraser said.
“Until someone shows me that every single Belonger who is eligible to be a juror is being looked at and placed in a pool and not just those who are registered to vote, I am not convinced that we need to … add some of these categories that they’re asking us to add,” he added.
According to the Opposition Leader, a jury pool board would better be able to harness the time-consuming task of ensuring all Belongers residents are placed in the jury pool.
“We have a board for immigration that determines who should and should not become Belongers and host certificate of residence. We can do that. I don’t believe that as it now stands, the persons who are responsible for creating the pool have the time to do it. They have other things to do. This could be time-consuming if done right. This doesn’t seem to me to be a priority job. And I think it should be assigned to someone or a board whose priority it is to create the pool. Everything else we do has a board or a commission for the purpose,” Fraser argued.
Fraser further said the Registrar of the Supreme Court has a whole lot of other things to do and said this should not include the mundane task of combing through a voter registration list or combing through the immigration and naturalisation or passport act to see who has Belonger status before filtering it to see who should be disqualified.
“I don’t think that that’s a role for a Registrar of the Supreme Court,” he added.
In the meantime, Fraser argued that the territory was heading down a “slippery slope” in seeking to add additional categories of persons to widen the jury pool.
According to Fraser, legislators needed to first ensure that the persons who are charged with the responsibility of creating the jury pool are exhausting all the categories that are available to them before simply increasing the pool or adding new categories and passing the bill.
“We’re going down a slippery slope, and the last time I checked, brakes can’t help you. So let’s not take that track down the road, that slippery slope… brakes can’t help you. If we’re going to do anything, let’s do it right,” Fraser urged.