Welch: Judge alone trials can lead to jury trials becoming extinct

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Indepdendent Senator Evans Welch. –

INDEPENDENT Senator Evans Welch says that he will not be supporting any legislation which could lead to jury trials in TT becoming extinct.

Welch was contributing to the debate on the Miscellaneous Provisions (Trial By Judge Alone) Bill, 2023 on Friday.

“I do not support this bill. It is dead on arrival.”

While unconvinced that the bill would achieve the objectives alluded to by Attorney General Reginald Armour SC earlier in the debate, Welch said he could change his vote if his concerns about the bill could be allayed.

Welch shared concerns raised by Opposition Senator Jayanti Lutchmedial, who spoke before him, about proposals in the bill to reduce the number of jurors in capital and non-capital offence cases.

He said a reduction in the number people in a jury could reduce the diversity of views needed for a jury to reach a fair decision to guide the final ruling of a judge.

Welch said this could see a 25 per cent increase in the possibility of a wrong verdict being delivered.

He argued that the only apparent benefit in the bill was “administrative convenience and costs.”

But Welch added, “These matters can’t take precedence over fairness and justice.”

He told senators that in other Caricom countries such as Jamaica and Barbados, the standard number of people on any jury is 12.

“Why are we dropping the standard?”

Welch accepted there were some situations where a judge alone trial might be better than a jury trial.

He identified instances of pre-trial publicity compromising the ability of a jury to be fair as one such scenario.

But Welch said in countries such as the Cayman Islands and the Turks and Caicos Islands, there is legislation which addresses such matters.

He believed the objectives of the Trial by Judge Act 2017, which allows for such trials under certain circumstances, should not be deviated from.

Welch said the right of any person accused of a crime to be judged by a jury of their peers “should remain as the gold standard.”