On Wednesday, Jan. 10, exactly 111 men and women between the ages of 18 and 69 began an experience they will remember the rest of their lives.
They were responding to a summons issued weeks ago that will require their presence at the courthouse from time to time for the next three months. They were reporting for possible selection as members of a Cayman Islands jury.
The involvement of ordinary citizens in the criminal trial process has been spoken of as both “duty” and “service.”
Cayman’s Judicature Law makes the duty plain: Any person who has been summoned and fails to attend, without having been excused by the court, commits an offense and is liable to a fine of $500.
The service aspect is usually touched on by the judges of the Grand Court when they address potential jurors before the start of a trial. Justice Roger Chapple, for example, told one such assembly in November: “Ladies and gentlemen, we really do appreciate your presence here today. All of us involved in the administration of criminal justice appreciate the upheaval and the inconvenience which is caused by jury service, and we understand the very real sacrifice that we ask you to make in your personal lives by committing to a particular case.
“That said, the public duty that you are being called upon to perform, I don’t really need to tell you, is of crucial importance and central to the administration of justice.”
The jury summons
There are four Grand Court sessions per calendar year, and there is a new set of jurors summoned for each session. These sessions start in January, April, July and October – usually on the first Wednesday of that month. Summonses are sent out well in advance so that recipients can adjust their personal plans accordingly.
The list of jurors is made up from the Official Register of Electors, but is limited to those under the age of 70.
Each year, the court bailiff is required to make an alphabetical list of all individuals liable to serve on juries. The Clerk of Court takes from this list names of persons who have not served as jurors in the last six preceding sessions.
Partly because there may be more than one trial going on at a time, the number of people summoned per session will be not fewer than 100 and not more than 160.
Some people are exempt by reason of their profession or office: medical practitioners, constables, prison officers, and attorneys actively engaged in litigation practice, for example.
The governor, deputy governor, MLAs, judges and magistrates are also exempt, as well as their spouses and children.
A person who is mentally disordered, as defined in the Mental Health Law, is exempt.
A person is disqualified from jury service if he or she has been charged for an offense and is currently before a court pending trial, or who has been convicted and received a sentence of imprisonment.
During a quarterly session, a person can end up serving on a jury for several trials within that time period.
However, once a person has served for a session, he or she will be excused for the next six sessions – in other words, at least a year and a half.
The first time a jury pool (referred to as the “panel”) comes together is for an orientation. Court staff explain procedures and facilities, and present a video that illustrates the role of each person involved in a trial. Importantly, they answer questions. The most common questions are addressed on the judicial website www.judicial.ky under the heading “Guidance.”
The jury panel is then told when to come back for selection for a trial.
For most cases, seven people are selected for a jury. For murder or treason, 12 jurors are chosen. If the judge is of the opinion that the trial will be complex, the judge may order that it be tried by a jury of 12.
But before that happens, the prosecutor will read out the names of the defendant(s) and witnesses. Jurors are asked if they know any of the people involved. If anyone with some personal knowledge is then called into the jury box, he or she should explain what relationship exists with what individual. It is not unusual for jurors in Cayman to have gone to school with a defendant or witness. The judge may ask questions to determine whether that contact has continued and might interfere with the need to be objective and impartial.
Some trials involve individuals or institutions that are widely known or touch many lives. For example, when four men went on trial in 2016 for the armed robbery of a Cayman National Bank branch, the jury panel of 92 was not enough. In addition to standard questions asked of potential jurors, the judge asked if they, or a family member, worked for Cayman National Bank or any bank in the Cayman Islands. Many potential jurors were excused by the judge because they or a relative worked for CNB or another bank. Others had connections with the police or prison service. Several knew one of the defendants or one of his family members. At least two people were excused on medical grounds. Jury selection went into a second day so that more people could be contacted and asked to attend.
In 2017, when former University College of the Cayman Islands president Hassan Syed went on trial for theft from the school, prospective members of the jury were given a questionnaire to answer in an effort to eliminate those with close connections to the university or with any of the witnesses scheduled to give evidence. A total of 51 potential jurors were excused by the judge from that case and a jury was chosen from the remaining panel.
Each juror has an assigned number, which stays the same throughout the session. The numbers are on small tiles kept in a covered wooden box. The court clerk pulls one number at a time from the box, checks the list of jurors and calls the corresponding name. That person is expected to answer “Present” and proceed to the jury box. The process is repeated until the required number has been selected to complete the array.
In addition to concerns jurors themselves may have about possible conflicts, the prosecution and defense attorneys may choose not to have someone sit on the jury. They may simply announce a “Challenge” and need not say why. Each defendant has five such challenges, known as peremptory, and the prosecution has five in respect of each person on trial.
If a party runs out of challenges but wishes to object to a particular juror, then a reason must be given and the judge will decide.
In recent years, some judges have adopted the practice of having one or two “alternate” jurors selected so that if a problem arises with one juror, the trial can still go ahead without delay.
Each juror is asked separately to take an oath. For those who do not swear on a Bible, similar wording is available in the form of a declaration or affirmation. The court marshal recites the oath, a phrase at a time, for the juror to repeat, as follows:
“I swear by almighty God that I will faithfully try the several issues joined between our Sovereign Lady the Queen and the defendant(s) at the bar and give a true verdict according to the evidence, so help me God.”
The judge then gives the jurors instructions as to his role as judge of the law and their role as judge of the facts. After these preliminary remarks, the Crown (prosecution) opens the case.
It is not unusual for a trial to last a week or more. Some matters, in which there are few witnesses, might be heard in three or four days. When jurors complete a trial, the judge will tell them when they are to return for another possible selection.
Chief Justice Anthony Smellie hears a variety of trial matters each year, including criminal. Other criminal trials are presided over primarily by Justice Charles Quin and judges from the U.K. and Caribbean Commonwealth countries who are appointed temporarily.
In addition to the chief justice, Cayman currently has eight full-time Grand Court judges, several of whom are assigned to financial services and other civil cases.
Delays and interruptions
Definitely one of the most unusual – and longest – interruptions in court proceedings occurred in 2004 during what was known as the Cash4Titles trial. The prosecution had closed its case in early September when court adjourned in advance of Hurricane Ivan. The destruction of that storm’s passage Sept. 11-12 disrupted everyone’s life, but courts were sitting again within days.
The presiding judge, Chief Justice Anthony Smellie, met with Cash4Titles jurors and advised them that the trial would resume on Oct. 11. “No doubt, as in the case of everyone, you have been affected by this wretched storm,” he said. He asked them to advise the court clerk if they had any particular difficulties, so that assistance could be offered. Then, on Oct. 11, he had to tell jurors about other “factors beyond our control,” including the absence of forensic accountants and overseas attorneys. The trial was then adjourned until Nov. 11 – a recess of more than two months.
More typical are delays that last a few minutes or result in court adjourning early in the day, for example, when one witness finishes his or her evidence sooner than expected and the next witness is not yet available. Sometimes something happens, or does not happen, that prompts an attorney to raise a point of law: legal arguments are held in the absence of the jury.
What seems to irritate jurors most is when they all gather for jury selection only to be told they will not be needed that day. “Why didn’t you tell us sooner?” is the common question. The answer can be straightforward – the defendant has decided to plead guilty. Even a last-minute admission usually merits some discount in sentence.
Of course, there are other reasons for delays and interruptions. The court has established a jury hotline telephone number that can be checked any time for the most up-to-date information. When there is sufficient time, notices are sent to the media for print or broadcast.
Jury duty for the Coroners Court is a completely separate matter, for a different purpose and regulated by additional legislation – the Coroners Law.
When a death is reported to the coroner (a judicial position held by a specifically appointed magistrate), he or she must promptly decide whether or not to hold an inquest. The coroner will make this decision based on the facts and circumstances of the death, and, where relevant, the content of the autopsy report by the pathologist (who is a medical doctor) and any statements from, or obtained by, the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service.
The purpose of an inquest is not to blame anyone or find someone guilty or not guilty. The purpose is to establish the identity of the deceased, when and where he or she died, and the cause and manner of death.
In Cayman, the majority of inquests seem to be held after road accidents or incidents involving water sports.
Several verdict are available to a jury, with the most usual being natural causes or misadventure. When evidence is insufficient for jurors to reach a conclusion, they can return an open verdict.
Possible verdicts are explained by the coroner, who also presides over court proceedings, sums up the evidence and instructs jurors on any applicable law, as well as their duties.
The Coroners Law provides that 12 persons shall be summonsed at a time. The period for which they serve is usually not more than a week or two.
“It’s difficult for people to have to deal with a series of matters that can involve so much grief,” explained Deputy Clerk of Court Cecile Collins. “All court matters are quite sensitive, but the death of somebody’s loved one can be especially difficult to be faced with when it comes time to render a verdict.”
Given the small jury panel and the likelihood of several people being excused because of some personal knowledge or connection, some jurors could end up serving for several inquests in succession.
The period of service is therefore relatively short compared to Grand Court service. The law also provides for a period of two years before Coroner’s Court jurors can be called again for any jury.