The criminal justice process will always be open to criminal justice reform. The recent indication by the Honorable Chief Justice of Barbados that the jury system may be in need of replacement is indicative of the dynamics of criminal justice.
Jury trial has served Barbados well from its inception and has been hailed as appropriate; given that the accused person is “tried” by his peers.
Over the last three decades in Barbados and by extension the Anglophone Caribbean, the instances of crime in general and serious crime in particular, have been rising. Serious crime is not only a challenge to the police but to the other criminal justice institutions.
Criminal justice institutions, in keeping with the Rule of Law, must strive for efficiencies and effectiveness. Fair and speedy trials are major objectives of the criminal justice process. Our criminal justice system is under severe stress consequent upon: serious criminal matters not being placed before the court in a timely manner, a heavy backlog of serious criminal cases in the High Court and the high level of recidivism which is a perennial problem and is inextricably linked to bail. There are other contributory areas to stress in the system. It is timely, then, that the search to reform the process is ignited.
Juries over the years have had the benefit of not only deliberating on the facts of cases but in doing so, they themselves have been exposed to aspects of the working of the criminal justice process. Certainly this exposure has added to their individual knowledge and education amongst other benefits. Conversely, jury trial has retarded the process for a number of reasons, well known to the criminal justice institutions. Pointedly, we must move to protect jurors from themselves in our small society. Do we know our neighbours? Yes, we do; from North to South, East to West and in cyberspace.
Where collectively we cannot prevent serious crime, we must move to speedier trials and even if we prevent serious crime, trials must be such that the accused persons are aware that justice will be swift and certain.
It is plausible and timely that jury trials are not only under consideration for having outlived their usefulness but to move posthaste to legislate their demise and at the same time, give effect to trial by judge only. Trial by judge-only has two layers of oversight. Surely, this new reform will augur well for greater efficiencies and effectiveness. The merits of trial by judge only vastly outweigh the merits of retaining a jury system which is a colonial relic.
Bertie A. Hinds