An initiative that may see the territory’s jury pool expanded to include non-nationals living in the BVI for less than ten years has already begun, Premier Dr Natalio Wheatley announced recently.
The move, which formed part of the Commission of Inquiry’s (COI) recommendations, should assist, to some degree, in enhancing the work of the court.
In his COI Report, Commissioner Sir Gary Hickinbottom stated that he was “persuaded by the submissions [he] received that the current provisions for juries are not in the interests of justice”.
As a result of this, recommendation B43 of the COI Report proposed that consideration be given to revise the existing Jury Act to increase the size of the pool of jurors to ensure the jury system is effective. Sir Gary suggested changing the criteria for persons allowed to sit on a jury panel to include persons who are long-term residents of the territory.
“Internal stakeholder consultation has already taken place and the Attorney General’s Chambers is currently finalising the draft,” Premier Wheatley told the House of Assembly (HOA) in his announcement.
What the Jury Act Says
Under the current Jury Act, only persons who are Belongers, who have lived in the territory for at least 10 years, are between the ages of 21 and 60, have no previous convictions and are not sitting members of the HOA are eligible to be jurors.
Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Tiffany Scatliffe Esprit previously told the COI that these eligibility requirements have the effect of significantly restricting the size of the jury pool.
In her evidence before the COI, the DPP suggested that the eligibility criteria should instead be revised to allow those aged 18 and above and those who have been resident for five years (as opposed to 10 years) to be jurors.
Scatliffe Esprit also said information should be gathered and cross-referenced across government agencies to ensure there is a complete and accurate list of those eligible for jury service.
In the meantime, there was also a proposal that consideration be given to granting the court wider powers to hear judge-only criminal trials.
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