By Theresa Goodwin
The Cabinet of Antigua and Barbuda will be asked to consider proposed amendments to the Jury Act 2009 (No. 6 of 2009) which seeks to reduce the number of jurors serving on a jury panel from 12 to nine.
The explanatory note on the draft bill that has already been submitted to Attorney General Steadroy Benjamin indicated that the rationale for the reduction is to enable wider physical distancing between jurors while they are in the jury box during a trial.
The amendments to the bill are also designed to achieve the objective of adequate physical distancing in line with a recommendation by the Antigua and Barbuda Bar Association for measures to be implemented to adequately protect jurors from being infected with Covid-19.
Due to the pandemic, criminal trials in the High Court have not been in session since March of 2020.
Deputy Registrar of the High Court Kayode O’Marde told Observer recently that prior to the pandemic talks about possibly reducing the numbers have been ongoing for some time.
He said due to the virus, this has become even more important given the need for people to adhere to strict protocols.
“Antigua and Barbuda and St Kitts and Nevis are the only two islands that still have 12 jurors; all other countries have either reduced it to nine or seven. In Antigua, it is seven for non-capital offences, but it goes back up to 12 for murder cases. It is important especially for non-capital offences that have been pilling up so we can reduce those,” O’Marde said.
It was also noted in the bill’s explanatory note that there is no evidence to suggest that the reduction of jurors has affected the quality of verdicts – for the better or worse.
However, evidence exists that it has allowed for the selection of smaller jury pools from which to empanel, and this is of great importance, especially in islands with a small population size where the recycling of panels is a concern.
It was noted that this would also lead to a reduction of cost to government, as jurors not being paid for years after their service has been a recurring problem here in Antigua and Barbuda,.