19.02.13

Paying for Jury Duty

Gavin Goffe
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(876) 922-5860

The John Grisham book, The Runaway Jury, was a story about a man who tried to get selected for jury duty in order to 'sell' the verdict. An interesting story, save for the part about trying to get selected for jury duty. Who's ever heard of someone trying to get selected to perform their civic duty? Well it has happened, right here in Jamaica, but for the entirely selfish reason of getting a paid vacation.

There are only a few valid reasons that would excuse jury duty. One of them is that attendance at court will result in "undue loss and hardship". Jurors receive a stipend from Court Management Services Limited, the executive agency responsible for administration at the Island's courthouses. The last time I checked, it was the princely sum of $500 per day, which is sometimes paid years in arrears without interest or apology. It's not a question of whether the Court Management Services can match your salary. It can't. The issue is whether the person's attendance at court will cause the potential juror such financial loss that it would be unreasonable to ask the person to make such a sacrifice. The obvious solution, you would think, would be to require employers to pay full salaries to workers who have been selected to serve.

Employers are not required by law to give their workers paid leave to serve on a jury. Nonetheless, many employers will pay for the time away from work, seeing it as part of their contribution to society. Certainly, this is something to be encouraged. But to do so, the court needs to manage the program in a more efficient manner to ensure that it's not abused.

A clear example of abuse was recently brought to my attention by an employer who noticed that a few workers were constantly being summoned for jury duty. How could anyone be so 'bad-lucky'? Investigations were undertaken which revealed that in some cases, the worker was not empanelled on a jury at all but failed to report back to work for 2 weeks. In other cases, whenever the trial didn't get underway, the juror would take the rest of the day off. The company decided to change its policy about granting paid leave for jury duty and in no time, these career jurors were suddenly not popular at court any more.

It is unfortunate that certain workers would seek to take advantage of their employers in this manner and heap further challenges on the jury duty programme that is already unable to find enough qualified persons. Some persons are exempt by reason of their profession or occupation, such as teachers, full-time students, lawyers, doctors, nurses and pilots. Others are not qualified to serve because they cannot read and understand English. So much for patois being our first language. The efforts of the business community to support the jury duty programme by offering paid leave, should be encouraged and supported by efficient management.