Non-belongers with residency status should soon be able to serve as jurors after Governor John Rankin assented to the Jury Act, 2022 on Nov. 14.
The law, which the House of Assembly passed on Oct. 25, replaces a 1914 act that leaders have described as outdated in many respects.
Among other goals, the new legislation aims to expand the VI jury pool by ending a longstanding practice of excluding non-belongers from jury duty.
Under the previous legislation, the High Court Registry was already required to select jurors from a list that included non-belongers who have lived in the VI for at least ten years. In practice, however, jurors historically were selected from the list of eligible voters, which excluded non-belongers.
The new law allows non-belongers with residency status to serve on juries, but it also includes new provisions designed to facilitate this practice.
The act, for instance, allows the jury selection panel to use additional methods to obtain information about potential jurors, including seeking input from the chief immigration officer, the registrar general, and the director of Social Security Board.
The law also provides for the creation of a “Jury Management Database” set to be published annually.
This database is to include belongers between the ages of 18 and 70 and people listed on the Register of Voters maintained under the Elections Act Revised Edition 2013 — as well as non-belongers who have a certificate of residence and have lived in the territory for at least 10 years.
The act was published in the Gazette on Nov. 24.
Residence status rule
The initial version of the new Jury Act, like the previous legislation, would have allowed non-belongers who have lived at least 10 years in the territory to serve on juries — with or without a residency certificate.
But the residency-status requirement was added during a closed-door committee session of the HOA.
Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley — who introduced the act in the House of Assembly on Aug. 9 — explained in an Oct. 28 press conference that the residency-status requirement was added to ensure that anyone serving as a juror has demonstrated a commitment to being part of the community and a capability to take on the civic obligation.
“We felt that you needed something to really tie them to the BVI, some sense that they were settled in the BVI and committed to remain in the BVI,” he said.
In the committee session, legislators also made other minor modifications to the draft bill, including tweaking the list of specific positions that are exempt from serving and reducing the fine for failing to provide requested information to the registrar of the Supreme Court from $5,000 to $3,000.