No Jury Needed for Murder Cases and Violent Crimes Print
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Written by Shane B. Williams   
Thursday, 04 August 2011 00:00

Supreme CourtThough it went down as a side note in history, on Monday, June 20th, the House of Representatives and Senate passed three important crime bills. Those are the Indictable Procedure (Amendment) Bill, 2011, the Juries (Amendment) bill, 2011 and the Supreme Court of Judicature (Amendment) Bill, 2011. On Monday, August 1st, the Prime Minister of Belize signed Orders to put the Indictable Procedures (Amendment) Bill and the Juries (Amendment) Act into effect. 

The Indictable Procedures (Amendment) Bill and the Juries (Amendment) Bill provide for trial without a jury in certain criminal cases. Cases that are mandated to be tried by judge alone are Murder, Attempted Murder, Abetment Murder or Conspiracy to Commit Murder. The bill also makes provisions for either the prosecution or defense to request a trial without jury in other cases. The prosecution may request a trial without jury in cases where there is potential for jury intimidation or tampering. It is no secret that there are cases in which a juror’s decision is swayed by external circumstances. There have been cases where jurors have been threatened while Court was in session by individuals in the gallery. A simple (under the radar) gun finger gesture can influence a jury’s decision. It is much more difficult to bribe or intimidate a judge. The penalties for even an attempt at doing so are much harsher as well. Though be it that a judge is not immune to corruption, trial by a judge alone is more reasonable in the times we are living where selecting someone to a jury is immediately putting that individual and their family lives in danger.The defense may request for a trial without jury when they feel that a jury will not afford them a fair trial. Such situations are high profile cases in which people across the country have been exposed to sensational media reports or widespread gossip.

The Indictable Procedures (Amendment) Bill and the Juries (Amendment) Bill will apply only to those cases where an accused person is committed for trial on or after the commencement date, August 1st, 2011. Trial without a jury is a common practice. Even here in Belize, when murder cases or any others are appealed it goes before the Court of Appeals where there are no jurors. From there an appeal is taken to the Caribbean Court of Justice where there are no jurors. The time for trials by jury has passed. The mere idea of being tried by a jury of your peers is farfetched. When a gangster appears before the court to face a charge, are employed productive citizens really his peers? Do they know him best? 

A Government press release shed light on the growing withdrawal of trials by jury across the commonwealth: “Among the Commonwealth countries, as many as twenty-two (22) have altogether abolished jury trials in criminal cases. In a few other countries, including the United Kingdom, an application can be made to the trial Judge to order a trial without a jury on certain grounds. In fact, the first juryless trial was held in the United Kingdom in March 2010, on the ground that there was a danger of jury tampering.”