Of all the excuses for not registering to vote, the saddest must be an unwillingness to make oneself available for possible jury service.
Perhaps people need a better understanding of the jury system in Cayman – not the system in the US or UK, and certainly not as portrayed in novels or TV dramas.
In a drive that begins today and continues through August, the Elections Office and District Registering Officers are encouraging every eligible person to apply and become a registered voter. They are especially targeting young people who have turned 18 since the General Elections in 2005; recently naturalised persons; and others who meet the qualifications as set out in Cayman’s Constitution and amending orders.
That third category of potential voters may be at once the easiest and hardest group to get through to.
These are the people who could have been registered with minimum effort. But too often, apparently, Registering Officers are told that someone doesn’t want to be on the Voters List for fear of being summonsed for jury duty.
It is true that, by law, every person is liable to serve on juries whose name is on the Voters List and who has not reached the age of 60. But most often service is just over the course of an eight-week session, during which the individuals summonsed may be required to attend on several occasions. Many trials last a week or less. In a long matter, like money-laundering, the judge may adjust court hours so that jurors have time for their other obligations.
Sometimes people are afraid they will be chosen to sit on a case and make a decision affecting someone else’s life. But judges, Crown Counsel and Defence Attorneys are not insensitive to genuine concerns. People with close friendships or family relationships will be excused from a particular case.
Sometimes people complain about the time they will have wasted if they are not chosen or if a scheduled trial does not go ahead. But, as numerous judges have pointed out, jurors are an integral part of our system of justice. They are relied on for their common sense and knowledge – not of law, but of the world. There have been occasions when the mere presence of potential jurors caused a defendant to face the reality of his situation and admit guilt, thereby gaining at least some credit for his plea.
Responding to a jury summons is performing a service to this country. Mature, responsible citizens accept it as such.