A businessman was on Wednesday summoned to appear before High Court judge Justice Rickie Burnett after he reportedly threatened to fire one of his staff members if she responded to a jury summons.
The development came just over a month after a lawyer told the High Court that the Jury Act should be amended to allow public servants to serve as jurors. Residents of the Grenadines are also barred from the jury pool.
The female worker at the retail store in Kingstown was the only juror absent among the 93 summoned to attend court on Tuesday, the first sitting of the January assizes.
The judge ordered that she appear before him on Wednesday to explain herself.
“That’s because the boss man told me if I am to leave work to attend here, he is going to fire me,” the woman told the judge.
“Is he still going to fire you?” Justice Burnett further asked.
“I am not sure. I am not sure if at the end of this he would lay me off.”
The judge told the juror he could go further. He, however, said, “But let me pause a while.”
Meanwhile, Crown Counsel Renee Simmons told the court that had been before Justice Brian Cottle when a juror was having difficulty. The judge sent the police to the employer and brought him before the court.
She said that in that instance, the judge explained to the employer the importance of jurors and the service they provide and that the employer could not fire the juror.
Simmons said Justice Cottle gave the employer a very stern warning.
“Giving what she is saying, I would think that is the best course of action,” the crown counsel said, referring to the current situation.
Justice Burnett said that is exactly what he was planning to do.
The judge summoned the employer to appear before him, noting that the woman had said that he was at the court earlier that morning.
When the employer appeared before the court, the judge explained the reason for summoning him to court.
He also explained how the justice system functions.
“If there are no jurors, we may not have any criminal court because that is the law – judge and jury,” Justice Burnett said.
The employer confirmed that the juror works for him “but in a building”.
“I never told her not to come to court. She was a juror last year or the year before. I told her I understand the law but told her that if she is a juror again, I will hire someone,” the businessman said.
“I never told her I was going to fire her,” he said, adding that the juror had been on maternity leave for three months and he “did not do anything”.
The law provides for three months’ paid maternity leave for employees.
“There was a misunderstanding,” the businessman said.
He said he did not tell the worker that if she is to serve as a juror, he would have her replaced.
He said he told her that he would “add one more staff and she will be still paid by me”.
The businessman said that last year there was another worker who served as a juror.
“So, you do not have any difficulty in her serving in the assizes?” the judge asked.
The businessman said, “Not at all.”
He further said that the juror would remain in his employ.
Simmons asked the court to verify that the juror would be granted the same pay.
The businessman said this would be the case, adding that he did not know that the juror had to come to court on Tuesday.
“I’m happy that we have settled this matter. Because you will not want to obstruct my court from functioning?” the judge told the businessman.
“Not at all. We are under the law,” the businessman said.
The crown counsel asked the judge to explain to the business so he could understand and explain to his associates the consequences of baring a juror from attending court.
“Consequences will follow if you obstruct the court,” the judge said.
“And if you do that, you can be charged for doing that and as a very good employer you would not do that. I think we have settled this and I expect to see [this juror] tomorrow at 9 a.m.,” Justice Burnett said.
He ordered the media not to publish the name of the juror, her employer or businessplace or any photograph of the parties involved.
Lawyer against ‘the professionalisation of the jury’
Last December, defence counsel Jomo Thomas called for the jury pool to be expanded.
He said during the closing of the assizes that he probably knows almost all the faces of the jurors, adding that he has spoken out about “the professionalisation of the jury”.
“I don’t think that they do justice to the accused person nor do we do jurors who sit in the pool,” Thomas said.
He said maybe the time has come to revisit the law that prohibits public servants from serving as jurors.
“And that may have served well in the colonial times when the public service was very small. But now, the public service has a minimum of 6,000 persons, many of whom have to come to town,” Thomas says.
He said that having public servants also serving as juror “may relieve some of the strain that we are having”, a comment that resulted in applause from some of the jurors.
Thomas said that if there is “a professional jury”, someone who has sat on 10 trials may sway the jury in a particular way.
“And that is why I am opposed to this professionalisation of the jury where in a year people are sitting in five, six trials.”
Thomas, who lived in New York for decades, said that in that state, someone who served on a jury would not be called again to serve for five years.
He noted that New York has 26 million people but said that despite SVG’s population of 100,000 people “we can do better than having the same people time after time after time”