British Virgin Islands

Saturday, Sep 18, 2021

Serious concerns raised about BVI’s jury laws

Serious concerns raised about BVI’s jury laws

Two leading authorities in the local criminal-justice system — the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and the Commissioner of Police have both raised serious concerns about the laws that govern juries in the BVI.

One of those concerns is the stipulation that only Belongers living in the territory for 10 years or more are eligible to become jurors.

Police Commissioner Mark Collins said there are a number of high-profile cases currently before the local courts that are affected by this practice.

“That, fundamentally, is a huge issue for the judicial system of the islands – a very small pool of people to call from the jury service and not maximising the opportunities of expanding and extending it (the jury pool),” Police Commissioner Mark Collins told the Commission of Inquiry (COI) this week.

Adding to the discussion in a separate hearing before the COI, DPP Tiffany Scatliffe-Esprit describe the BVI as very “a small community” and said things become “very difficult” when a jury panel has members related to either a victim, lawyers involved in the case, and even witnesses.

Among other things, Section 4 of the Jury Act (Chapter 36) also says a juror must be between the ages of 21 and 60. But DPP Scatliffe-Esprit said the age requirement should start at 18.

Jurors should be isolated from the public during trials

The prosecuting attorney also said the BVI should adopt the widespread practice of sequestering jurors. This means separating jurors from the public; keeping the persons deliberating the verdict away from outside influences that could potentially sway their opinions.

“The problem with the current jury system is, unlike other jurisdictions, we cannot sequester our jurors. So even though the learned trial judge will give them certain directions — don’t speak to anyone, don’t entertain this, don’t look at this …, there is no way to ensure they are doing so. Of course, you have the trust system. You have to trust your jurors, you have to trust that they will listen to the judge, but sometimes we need to sequester them,” she reasoned

Scatliffe-Esprit said sequestering keeps jurors safe and “prevent[s] any form of jury tampering”.

Create an option of judge-only trials

The DPP further said the Jury Act should be amended to allow attorneys from the Crown or the Defence to apply for judge-only trials. After an application is made, the presiding judge in the case will make the final decision on whether a such a trial is appropriate.

Scatliffe-Esprit proposed the option of judge-only trials for serious murder trials or those involving purported gang affiliation. According to the DPP, persons always have a reluctance to be a juror in these trials because “they don’t want to be exposed or they think something will happen to them, etcetera.”

“These are things I’ve been told by former jurors,” Scatliffe-Esprit stated, adding that the option of judge-only trials should also be available for sexual offences involving minors.


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