No jury trials have been held in the territory since July because of a longstanding dissonance between the law governing who is allowed to serve on a jury and how that law has been implemented, opposition member Julian Fraser said Friday in the House of Assembly.
According to Mr. Fraser, Director of Public Prosecutions Kim Hollis told him that anyone who has been a resident of the Virgin Islands for at least 10 years is eligible to serve in a jury, but that currently jury members are being drawn from the voters list, “which is a totally different criteria.”
“What they’re saying is because the names have been drawn from the voting list, there’s something wrong with the list, and therefore there should be no jury trials until the list is amended,” he said.
Mr. Fraser (R-D3) added that when he asked the High Court registrar about the matter, she told him that the decision not to hold any jury trials was a matter for the court.
“She stated that she agrees that it is a matter of great importance and requires urgent attention,” he said.
The Jury Act of 1914 requires the High Court Registry to select candidates from a list of eligible jurors that includes non-belongers who have lived in the VI for at least 10 years.
But no such list exists, and jurors have long been selected from a list of registered voters, which excludes long-term non-belonger residents, a practice that legal precedent has upheld.
The proposed Jury Act 2009 would have repealed and replaced the Jury Act 1914, and would have formally required jurors to be selected off the voters list, but the act was never passed.
Former Governor Boyd McCleary made several mentions of replacing or amending the 1914 law, but such plans never came to fruition.
Earlier this year, Ms. Hollis successfully challenged the jury list in High Court, but it is unclear what steps have been taken to draw up a new jury list or why no jury trials have been held.
According to Mr. Fraser, the registrar told him that a Cabinet paper titled “Jury Bill 2019” was drafted and sent forward on July 5, but he was unable to find out the status or content of the bill.
He went on to question whether the court had a right to deny an individual a jury trial by “postponing that particular provision in the courts since July of this year.”
To support his point, he cited a clause in the Constitution which states that an individual charged with a criminal offence “shall be afforded a fair hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial court established by law.”
He also called into question the law itself, saying that residents who are non-belongers should not be able to serve on a jury.
Because of the situation, Mr. Fraser called for the creation of a public bills committee to ensure that all legislation is reviewed and updated.