Judge queries court openings

The formal opening of a new session of Grand Court last Wednesday was used to set trial dates, but it also raised questions about the process.

A new group of jurors attended after being summoned for duty during the next two months. Shortly after an introduction to procedure and a roll call, Mr. Justice Alex Henderson released them until the following Monday.

Nine persons who were absent were fined $500, unless they could present clear evidence of inability to attend.

Attorneys then asked for various defendants to be called.

At one stage, when a new matter was called, Senior Crown Counsel Adam Roberts noted that the law is constructed in such a way that when a matter is committed from Summary Court, it is to the next opening of the Grand Court.

The judge said it seemed to him that the whole business of opening and having 120 people in under compulsion so that they can be asked if they are here and then sent away again should be reviewed.

Perhaps the legislature would be inclined to modernise this procedure, Mr. Justice Henderson suggested. It seemed to him that jurors should be brought in as and when needed, but not otherwise.

Further, whenever anyone is committed from Summary Court to Grand Court, he or she should appear in the Grand court perhaps the following week and have a date fixed.

Mr. Roberts agreed that would make sense, but until the law was changed, ‘we are stuck with it.’

The judge agreed that ‘we have to do what the law requires.’

An informal check indicated that 113 jurors had been summoned for 3 May, of whom five were excused and nine absent.

On Monday, 8 May, the date jurors had been asked to return, Chief Justice Anthony Smellie advised that there was going to be an application for an adjournment of the trial scheduled. Since he was likely to accede to the application, he released the jurors until Tuesday, 16 May.

Five absent persons were fined $500. Three others had applied to be excused and their applications were subject to verification.

The Grand Court Law provides that the Court shall hold sessions for the trial of both civil and criminal cases on the first Wednesday in the months of January, March, May, July, September and November in every year and shall continue until the business of the court is completed.

The Judicature Law sets out the procedure by which persons are summoned for duty for each session.

The Criminal Procedure Code sets out the steps by which a matter goes from the lower court to the higher court. It states that, when a defendant is committed to the Grand Court, the Summary Court shall commit him or her for trial at the next session.