Lawyers fear elimination of jury trials

Proposal seeks judge-alone trials in firearms cases

Cayman Islands government will seek to abolish trials by jury for defendants
accused in firearms-related offences, according to correspondence sent to the
Attorney General’s office by the Cayman Islands Criminal Defence Bar
Association over the weekend.

amendment to the Criminal Procedure Code is expected to be brought before the
Legislative Assembly later this year, along with a number of other changes that
have been discussed among Cayman’s legal community, as well as in the local
press, for several months.

their letter, sent Saturday, the defence Bar association stated that the
proposed abolition of jury trials in firearms-related cases would be “vehemently
opposed” by members of the bar.

association submits that in relation to all but minor criminal offences, the
task of determining whether a person is guilty should remain within the
province of the jury,” read the letter, signed by local attorney John Furniss,
chairman of the association.

defence Bar points out that commonwealth jurisdictions like the United Kingdom,
Canada, New Zealand and Australia – all of which have adversarial rather than
inquisitorial court tribunals – continue to use juries as the fact-finding
tribunal in serious cases.

UK-based common law and the United States Constitution recognise the right to
jury trial as a fundamental tenet of civil liberties, Mr. Furniss wrote on
behalf of the Bar association.

reduce the tribunal of fact to a single individual is to necessarily increase
the risk that the innocent may be convicted of grave crime and imprisoned for
years,” the letter continued. “The recent Tribunal of Enquiry (referring to proceedings
against suspended Grand Court Justice Priya Levers) reminded us that judges are
human beings.”

the past several months, seeing an alarming increase in the number of violent
crimes – including homicides and armed robberies – local police and prosecutors
have discussed the need to present more cases for judge-alone trial.

concern is two-fold: first that juries could be tampered with or intimidated,
and second that witnesses are afraid to appear in court to testify in those

defence Bar association noted that there was “no evidence that we are aware of”
which would tend to show that jurors are being intimidated. Moreover, it was
pointed out that criminal offences already exist for those who would seek to
influence juries in criminal cases.

UK’s Criminal Justice Act, 2003, does allow for trial by judge-alone only where
a court is satisfied that there is clear evidence of a “real and present danger”
that jury tampering could take place.

defence Bar noted that other European jurisdictions do not employ juries to
hear certain criminal cases, but said that those jurisdictions do not spring
from the common law traditions of an adversarial court system.

compare the two is to compare apples with oranges,” Mr. Furniss wrote on behalf
of the Bar association.

countries that utilise ‘gun courts’ where judges try cases without juries have
been described as a success by local law enforcement officials. Jamaica is one
such jurisdiction. 

defence Bar association opined that such examples should not be used by those
who are trying to make a case for judge-alone trials in Cayman.

is not a view we can share on the basis of the frankly glaring evidence to the
contrary (principally said courts’ failure to reduce the increase in violent
gun crime in Jamaica).

is submitted that restricting fundamental and long established civil liberties
and protections should never be a policy of first resort or otherwise taken
lightly. Measures should first be introduced to improve basic policing and
detection rates,” the Bar association wrote. 

Other changes

government will propose a number of other changes to the Criminal Procedure
Code, as well as the Evidence Law, in the coming weeks. Those include:

to section 37 of the Evidence Law (2007 Revision) to let witnesses give
evidence by live television link in cases where allegations are of a violent or
sexual nature. This could be used at both trials and in preliminary enquiries.
*Allow the Summary Court to send the most serious offences (known as Category A
offences in the law) to the Grand Court as soon as possible. This would likely
mean just one hearing in Summary Court before the case is sent up.

Category B offences would be reclassified as Category C (lesser) offences to
allow them to be heard only in Summary Court.

other criminal offences charged against an individual who is accused of murder
in the same incident of crime to be heard in the same trial. Right now, a
murder charge must be held separately from all other criminal offences.