Senate backs law to tackle jury bias – Royal Gazette
Published Jul 29, 2020 at 6:39 pm (Updated Jul 29, 2020 at 6:40 pm)
Senators approved legislation to modernise jury selection and allow some cannabis convictions to be expunged.
Both the Criminal Code Amendment No 2 Act 2020 and the Expungement of Convictions Act 2020 garnered broad support from senators today.
Kathy Lynn Simmons, the Minister of Legal Affairs, said the first of the bills would create “equality of arms” between prosecutors and the defendant during the jury selection process in the Supreme Court.
While prosecutors have historically been allowed to stand down an unlimited number of potential jurors without reason, the amendment grants both sides an equal number of challenges.
Ms Simmons said for most matters both sides would receive three challenges, with that number increasing to five in the most serious cases.
She said: “We have five challenges for cases with a mandatory life sentence. Those offences are the most serous known to our laws, offences like murder.”
Ms Simmons added the amendments also do away with a reference to death penalty cases and a “sexist” provision that allowed all-male juries in cases “where matters of an indecent nature are likely to arise”.
Dwayne Robinson, an Opposition senator, said the amendments had the full support of the One Bermuda Alliance.
He said: “I have heard several cases of people who have claimed jury bias and I do believe this particular amendment brings us in step with other jurisdictions to the south and the UK.”
He added that the amendment both modernised the legislation and would serve to improve equality.
Jarion Richardson, a One Bermuda Alliance senator, said the criminal justice system needs to continually evolve and the issue of fairness must be regularly addressed.
James Jardine, an independent senator, said the inequality of challenges never seemed fair to him.
He added: “This seems like a just and far more fair system of dealing with court matters.”
Ms Simmons said the second bill would allow members of the public with convictions for possession of less than 7g of cannabis to apply to have their convictions wiped from the record.
She said the Government decriminalised the possession of small quantities of cannabis in late 2017, but many Bermudians were still impacted by having a past conviction on their criminal record.
Ms Simmons recalled a recent conversation with a 77-year-old man who had been denied permission to enter the United States for several years because of a cannabis conviction from his youth.
She said: “This will make a difference in so many people’s lives.
“It’s very important that we make people whole in our own country first, to the extent that these minor convictions have prevented people from obtaining employment and they carry the stigma.”
Ms Simmons warned that the Bermuda Government had no control over the US “stop list”.
Mr Jardine said a criminal record was an “unduly harsh cross to bare” for many.
He added that he hoped issues with the US stop list could be addressed in the near future.
Mr Robinson said the legislation is worthy of celebration as young black males had been “in a sense” targeted in drug convictions.
He said the expungement would allow many young people an opportunity to overcome a youthful mistake.
This article originally appeared here in http://www.royalgazette.com/politics/article/20200729/senate-backs-law-to-tackle-jury-bias