St. Kitts and Nevis’ 1914 Jury Act is to be reviewed, amended to prevent abuse of jurors by employers

St. Kitts and Nevis’ Attorney General and Minister of Justice and Legal Affairs, Hon. Patrice Nisbett (Photo by Erasmus Williams)

BASSETERRE, ST. KITTS, JUNE 11TH 2012 (CUOPM) – Legislators in St. Kitts and Nevis have approved an amendment to Jury Act which prevents abuse by citizens who serve as jurors.

“Mr. Speaker, trial by jury is one of the cornerstones of our legal system and is a typical characteristic of common law countries. In other words, the Government would like to ensure that the necessary measures are put in place to prevent abuse by employers of those who have been selected to perform their civic responsibility in that regard,” Attorney General and Minister of Justice and Legal Affairs, the Hon. Patrice Nisbett.

He told parliamentarians that under the new legislation which is expected tom be assented to by Governor General, His Excellency Dr. Sir Cuthbert Sebastian, every employer must grant a paid leave of absence to an employee who is summoned to serve as a juror.

“This leave of absence with full salary is specifically for the purpose of serving as a juror and does not affect the employee’s right to his or her other leave, such as vacation leave or sick leave. The leave of absence for the purpose of jury duty is also for the entire day the employee must serve as a juror. In other words an employee who works the night shift must not be required to work after he has served as a juror during the day,” said the Nevisian-born Attorney General.

He said that an employer who alters a juror’s salary on the grounds of his or her service as a juror commits an offence.

“That employer would be liable to pay the employee his or her full salary for the period in question plus a fine of ten thousand dollars,” said Mr. Nisbett, adding that members of a jury must be able to focus on the case in order to make a proper determination based on the facts presented to them.

“The distraction that would be created by worries about his or her salary or employment must be eliminated to ensure that jurors are more concerned about the fate of the accused rather than their own,” said Mr. Nisbett.

He also told lawmakers and the nation that it is important that the fate of the accused is of paramount importance in each case as his or her liberty or life may be at stake.

“He has a right to be tried by an impartial jury of his peers. All an employer has to do to respect the provisions of this Bill is to put himself in the place of an accused person whose fate is being decided by a disgruntled jury,” said Mr. Nisbett.

He pointed out that a jury trial is a legal proceeding in which a jury either makes a decision or makes findings of fact which are then applied by a judge.

“It is distinguished from a bench trial, in which a judge or panel of judges makes all decisions. It has been argued that where jury trials are utilised, that juries are often seen as an important check against state power,” said the Attorney General, who pointed out that other common assertions about the benefits of trial by jury is that it provides a means of interjecting community norms and values into judicial proceedings and that it legitimizes the law by providing opportunities for citizens to validate criminal statutes in their application to specific trials.

“There are many arguments that could be postulated for and against this particular practice but wherever the arguments lean, trial by jury remains a vital part of our justice system,” said Mr. Nisbett.

“Service as a juror is a ‘national service.’ If a person is in fact selected to serve as a juror then this becomes a matter of his or her civic duty that should not be lightly brushed off or ignored. It is for this cause that the law provides for a serious penalty if a Juror fails to turn up without lawful excuse when he has been summoned by the court to sit on a panel,” he said.

Mr. Nisbett added: “Jury duty is a serious aspect of upholding the rule of law and reporting for jury duty is an equally serious legal obligation. An unfortunate practice has now developed where some employers, refuse to pay their employees in respect of time that would be spent by those employees in carrying out their duties as jurors.”

The Attorney General said the Jury Act came into force in 1914 and it is need of a comprehensive review, especially in relation to the fines and penalties.

“That review will form part of a larger exercise where a holistic review and reconciliation of fines and penalties in the laws of the Federation will be undertaken,” he said.

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