Judiciary on a downhill spiral …”NO LUNCH FOR JURORS”

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When jurors are summoned to perform their civic duty, it is expected that they will be made comfortable by the staff of the Judiciary.

Many jurors, who are parents, suffer hardships when cases go beyond the time when schools end for the day. Some of them complain of reaching late to pick up their children. That is why so many jurors seek exemption.

There is another scenario where jurors are sequestered, sometime for months. Take for instance, the trial of Dole Chadee and eight members of his gang in 1996.

The 12-member jury and six alternates were sequestered at a hotel in Chaguaramas. The Judiciary had to foot that bill – hotel and all other expenses including security, for a period of three months.

Lunch for jurors and sequestration are a must in the course of the administration of justice.

The administration of justice was hit a serious blow on Wednesday when a judge said things were so bad that jurors would have to walk with their lunches. With all the bacchanal flowing in the Judiciary with the Chief Justice, it is now made clear that money is a problem.

Justice Carla Brown-Antoine, who formerly worked in the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), raised the concern in a drug possession trial in the San Fernando High Court that they walk with their own lunch.

The judge said the State would usually provide lunches for jurors, but the caterers who provide this service have reduced significantly.

She added, “In order to provide lunch, we use vouchers, we don’t pay cash.”

She said caterers who provide the meals would accept government cheques and vouchers.

The judge continued, “But you know how long the government takes to pay. The numbers of persons who provide that service has reduced significantly over the last year.”

Browne-Antoine said, “Members of the jury I suggest you should walk with your own lunch.”

However, she said in the event that the court sits after midday and the jurors don’t have lunch, lunch will be ordered for them.

“You should have water and tea and so on. I hope that is provided for you.”

The Judiciary has been having serious financial problems. There are six criminal courts in Port-of-Spain, four in San Fernando and one in Tobago. A panel of either nine of 12 jurors, together with alternate jurors, would sit in a trial which could last for weeks or even months.

The T&T Guardian was told that a meal for a juror could cost between $40 to $60.

The budgetary setback has also affected the State’s ability to pay for State witnesses living abroad to be flown into the country to testify in trials.

Pamela Elder SC, President of the Criminal Bar Association, called for the situation to be urgently rectified. She said, “This is the first time since I am practizing law I have heard of that.

“If that is indeed so, I really hope the situation can be urgently rectified and jurors are provided with lunches because it is already a great inconvenience for the jurors to reach to court for 9 am. I trust that this would not become a precedent. It is rather unfortunate and it should be addressed urgently.”

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JUSTICE CARLA BROWNE-ANTOINE

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