Editorial for April 1: A jury of peers?

 The Judicature Amendment Bill that suggests expanding the pool of those eligible to serve as jurors in the Cayman courts marks an interesting point in this country’s development.

The reason for the bill is basic: there simply aren’t enough people available to sit on juries here, especially in these days of increased crime.  

Currently, only registered voters are eligible to sit on juries, and some of those people are exempted by their occupation, age or financial standing. In addition, people who have served on jury panels are automatically exempted from serving again for a specific time afterwards.

That leaves less than a quarter of Cayman’s total population available to sit on juries, so it shouldn’t be surprising that there are efforts to expand the pool.

What is surprising, however, is that the pool would be expanded to non-Caymanian permanent residents, a class of people who are not only ineligible to vote, but who also do not possess the same legal rights and privileges as Caymanians on a host of other fronts.

The interesting issue with this occurs when a Caymanian faces a trial by a jury – which has traditionally been a panel of peers – and a person with permanent residence – who is certainly not a peer in the legal sense of the word – sits on that jury.  

If adopted, this measure would empower non-Caymanians, in the context of a criminal procedure, with rights historically only afforded Caymanians.

It would signal, albeit selectively, Cayman’s acceptance of a need for a more inclusive approach with long-term, non-Caymanian residents.

To be fair, many people with permanent resident status are on the path toward citizenship in any case. 

Many of these people will have already gone through the vetting processes for key employees and permanent residence application, while others will be spouses of Caymanians.

It’s only fair to ask them to contribute to the process of criminal justice.

However, we have to wonder about the feelings that would result in having some non-Caymanians sit in judgment of Caymanians and whether, given the current tensions between the two groups, that would be tolerated.

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  1. I have heard from more than one person the fear that a non-Caymanian juror giving the wrong decision on a Caymanian defendant might face adverse consequences. There is a widespread perception, whether anecdotal or not, that in Cayman’s insular society a Caymanian can harm the interests of a non-Caymanian, through influence within the civil service. How does a juror know whether the defendant has a cousin working in the immigration department who could take revenge for a guilty verdict?

  2. The last sentence of your editorial should be revisited and perhaps clarified. You were no doubt specifically referring to the possibility of Caymanians being judged by non-Caymanians in a jury situation under the new proposals.

    Of course Caymanians are judged in the courts by non-Caymanians all the time, as we have no native magistrates or judges here. The only way (right now) that a Caymanian can be assured he/she will be judged by other native Caymanians is by electing to be tried by jury. Now that too will be gone.

    The false notion that locals cannot fairly and effectively judge one of their own needs to be challenged vigorously, otherwise we accept that we are the only small society on earth that cannot do so.

  3. It’s very true that there are no native Judges here. The Chief Magistrate Margaret Ramsay-Hale is Jamaican, as are Chief Justice Smellie, Justices Harrison and Smith and the recently departed Justice Levers. Justice Henderson is Canadian, Justice Quin is Irish, Justice Foster is Scottish, and Justices Jones and Cresswell are English.

    It is ironic that in a country so viscerally racist against Jamaicans (widely professed Christiantity notwithstanding) the Judiciary should be so dominated by Jamaicans.