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Friday, Dec 09, 2022

Increase jury pool by adding long-term residents, COI report says

Increase jury pool by adding long-term residents, COI report says

The Commission of Inquiry (COI) report — issued by Sir Gary Hickinbottom — has called upon the relevant officials in the BVI to revise the territory’s Jury Act.

Under the Jury Act currently, only persons who are Belongers, who have lived in the territory for at least 10 years, are between the ages of 21 and 60, have no previous convictions, and are not currently members of the House of Assembly are eligible to be jurors.

But according to the territory’s Director of Public Prosecutions, Tiffany Scatliffe-Esprit, these eligibility requirements have the effect of significantly restricting the size of the jury pool.

In light of this issue, Sir Gary recommended that the Act be reviewed in two main ways.

He said consideration should first be given to increasing the size of the jury pool. Here, he suggested changing the criteria to enable and require those who are long-term residents to sit on juries.

Second, consideration should be given to granting the court wider powers to hear judge-only criminal trials.

Jurisdiction of the BVI is just too small

According to the COI report, DPP Scatliffe-Esprit and the Commissioner of Police had advocated for these changes when they appeared before the COI last year.

It was expressed that the jurisdiction of the BVI is small, and finding jurors who do not know and are unrelated to witnesses and the accused is usually challenging.

At the time, the DPP said she considers that the eligibility criteria should be revised to allow those aged 18 and above and those who have been resident for five years (as opposed to 10 years) to be jurors.

Scatliffe Esprit also said that information should be gathered and cross-referenced across government agencies to ensure that there is a complete and accurate list of those eligible for jury service.

Based on the evidence taken during the inquiry, Sir Gary said: “I am persuaded by the submissions I received that the current provisions for juries are not in the interests of justice.”

His recommendation in this regard, served as one of several suggestions aimed specifically at improving law-enforcement and justice in the territory.


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