Understanding the Law
July 6, 2012
An historic case – Pt. 2

The Newton Spence case was appealed in the Judicial committee of the Privy Council and three grounds were put forward for its dismissal. As you would recall from last week’s article, only one of the three grounds succeeded. Conviction was quashed and the matter was sent back to the Court of Appeal to consider whether there should be a retrial.{{more}}

The summing up

The ground concerning causation in the summing up (discussed last week) was dismissed as their Lordships thought that causation was adequately summed up by the High Court Judge. In fact, their Lordships opined that the summing up in relation to causation was “impeccable”. The judge had directed the jury to consider the medical mistreatment and to determine whether the wound operated and was a “substantial cause of death”.

The second ground

This was where some one outside the case interrogated another juror. She, however, informed the judge about it. The judge did not think that the matter had corrupted the juror in any way and so the juror was allowed to continue.

Decision to discharge a juror

It was the decision to discharge a juror that was decisive, as their Lordships thought that this was an irregularity, and so the case was quashed on the basis of conviction. There was one juror who was concerned that the trial might extend over the time of her planned vacation. She sent a message to the judge asking to be relieved of her duties as a juror. The judge thereafter arranged to discus the matter. Her fiancé was present at the meeting, as he had written a strong letter to the judge as to why she should be relieved. He expressed his concern about the expenses that would incur if they had to change their plan for one week later for their trip to Europe. The judge told them that he could not dismiss her, as “his hands were tied by the law”. Later on, however, he dismissed her as “incapable of serving”. It was clear that she was a reluctant juror, but their Lordships of the Judicial Committee did not think she was an unwilling juror. She did not show hostility, neither did she show anger to anyone and she did not express any unwillingness to serve thereafter.

The Law on Jurors

In SVG, a jury of 12 jurors is required in a murder case and their decision must be unanimous. In making their determination, their Lordships compared Section 15 of the Jurors Act of SVG with Section 16 of the English Act and found it wanting. Our laws require unanimous decision (guilty or not guilty) by the jurors. The numbers cannot be reduced to less than 10. The verdict of a jury of 10 after two hours deliberation could be accepted if a juror dies, is incapacitated or if he or she absents himself or herself from the trial. Section 16 of the English Act has an additional category “or for any other reason” and this would have covered the circumstances under which the juror was dismissed. Our section does not carry that provision and for that reason the dismissal of the juror was irregular.

Their Lordships recommended that the lawmakers amend the laws of SVG to include “or for any other reason” so as to give the trial judge a wider discretion.

My suggestion is for alternate jurors, similar to that provision obtained in the United States. This provision would allow other jurors to follow the trial, so that if for a reason a juror has to leave, then the alternate would step in.

Ada Johnson is a solicitor and barrister-at-law.
E-mail address is: [email protected]