Third District Representative, Hon. Julian Fraser is concerned that there has been no jury trial in the High Court since July.
Hon. Fraser expressed this during his debate contribution to the 2020 estimates.
“It has been brought to my attention that there has been no jury trial in this Territory since July and when I asked the Director of Public Prosecution regarding the issue, I was told that the Jury Act advocates for anyone who has been resident in the BVI that is an alien for over ten years to serve as a jury,” Hon. Fraser stated.
Further, the Legislator said that the DPP explained that persons between the ages of 21 to 60 are eligible to sit as jurors on jury trials in the BVI; however, Hon. Fraser explained that the issue is list related.
“Unfortunately, it came to their attention that the list is being drawn from the voters list which is a totally different criteria. What they are saying Mr. Speaker is because the names are being drawn from the voters list there is something wrong with the list and therefore there should be no jury trials until the law is amended or the list is amended,” Hon. Fraser stated.
The Senior Member of the House of Assembly announced that he also heard from the Registrar of the court who mentioned that a Bill that deals with jury matters was forwarded to the Cabinet for attention.
In noting this Hon. Fraser said, “When I asked the Registrar about the matter of the court the Registrar stated that it was a decision of the court and the decision is on record. The decision of which I am speaking of is that there be no jury trial. She stated that she agrees that it is a matter of great importance that requires urgent attention."
Hon. Fraser recalled that the Registrar outlined that a Cabinet paper was drafted and sent forward on July 5 titled Jury Bill 2019.
"No one can tell me what the status of that Bill is nor can they tell me what is in the draft bill,” Hon. Fraser stated.
Hon. Fraser said that the Registrar also explained that a concern was raised by counsel that a certain category of persons were excluded from the jury selection process.
She stated that such persons who were alien and not residing ten years or more will have to be disqualified.
Hon. Fraser said that the DPP gave an opinion on Jury Act.
“Be that as it may Mr. Speaker, whether the fact is that jury should be drawn from four different avenues and you are drawing it from one only. My question Mr. Speaker is does the court have the right to deny an individual a jury trial by postponing that particular provision in the court since July of this year,” Hon. Fraser stated.
The Third District Representative then referred to Section 16 of the Virgin Islands Constitution.
“If any person is charged with a criminal offence, then, unless the charge is withdrawn, the case shall be afforded a fair hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial court established by law. Every person who is charged with a criminal offence shall— when charged on indictment in the High Court, have the right to trial by jury,” Hon. Fraser outlined.
Additionally, Hon. Fraser questioned the court’s decision on the matter, and said that he does not think non-belongers should be allowed to sit on the jury.
The Legislator said, "My position on this also is that if you are not a citizen of a country you should not be a juror. I couldn’t care how long you live here. If you are not a belonger you should not be a juror. There w]as a time when such was appropriate but not today and those legislation that we are talking of Mr. Speaker must come to this House."