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A critical cog in the judicial system from time immemorial has been allowing an accused person the opportunity to be tried before a jury of his peers. Recently, however, an accused now has another option, that is, to be tried before a Judge alone. While both avenues share the same goals of providing fair and efficient justice, they do differ procedurally. This article seeks to both shed light and explore the differences between both types of trials.
The Jury Verdict: A Tapestry of Collective Deliberation
In a jury trial, the accused will have his verdict decided by a jury of his peers, consisting of a panel of randomly selected persons from the wider community. During the course of the trial the jury members would have to fulfil the following duties:

  1. Evidentiary Review: Jurors are presented with evidence, witness testimonies, and precise legal instructions from both the prosecution and the defence. Their duty, at this stage, is to weigh and scrutinize the facts and arguments presented during the trial. 
  2. Group Deliberation: After the evidence is presented by counsel for both sides, the jurors would meet in the jury room to deliberate on the verdict. Each juror would bring unique life experiences, perspectives and values to the table which would prove be valuable in their deliberations.   
  3. Unanimity or Majority Decision: The final verdict depends on the requirements of each jurisdiction. In Trinidad and Tobago, and most of the Commonwealth Caribbean, the law requires that verdicts in murder cases must be unanimous.  Otherwise, in respect of all other offences, the jury may return a majority verdict.  When jurors fail to reach a unanimous decision or majority decision, a mistrial may be declared and the accused would be retried before a fresh jury.

The Judge Alone Verdict: Legal Expertise in Solitude
A Judge-Alone trial, however, empowers the judge siting alone to determine the guilt or innocence of the Accused. Judges in such cases assume the role of both legal scholar and fact-finder. This means that the Judge would be empowered to interpret the law, apply legal principles as well as rely on his or her own human experience in arriving at the verdict. The Judge in Judge alone trial would have the following duties to execute:

  1. Expertise in Law: Judges hold a unique position within the legal system, due to their extensive training and intimate knowledge of the law. Their legal expertise enables them to scrutinize legal arguments, apply legal doctrines with precision, and make rulings founded on a deep understanding of legal principles. 
  2. Impartiality: Judges are trained to be impartial and unbiased in the execution of their duties. They are duty-bound to remain dispassionate throughout the trial, and unaffected by the sway of emotions or external influences. 
  3. No Group Deliberation: While the jury system revels in the diversity of thought, judge-alone verdicts take place in isolation. Judges do not partake in group deliberations nor engage in debates and instead, they shoulder the weight of decision-making independently.

Key Contrasts: Threads of Justice
Judge Alone Trials and Jury Trials differ on many levels and these differences are explored below:

  1. Representation: At its heart, jury verdicts symbolize community representation. Jurors, drawn randomly from the community, stand as the embodiment of the accused's peers, offering a network of community perspectives. In contrast, judge-alone verdicts hinge on a singular legal expert, placing community representation in the backseat. 
  2. Diversity of Thought: Each juror will bring his or her own unique experiences, and backgrounds with them, creating differing perspectives and opinions. This rich diversity of thought results in a more comprehensive examination of the case, leaving no stone unturned. Judges, in their role as legal experts, however, draw from their extensive legal training, grounding their decisions in established legal principles and precedent. 
  3. Speed and Efficiency: Judge-alone verdicts, often streamlined and methodical, tend to operate swifter and more efficiently. Jury verdicts, on the other hand, may move at a more deliberate pace due to the need for group deliberation consensus.

An accused must now carefully consider his mode of trial, as each one carries its own strengths and weaknesses, its suitability depending on the specifics of the case at hand.  Despite their differing approaches, however, both systems are committed to the unbiased pursuit of justice, whilst expanding the options of persons standing accused before the Court. 

Submitted by:
Avionne Bruno-Mason
Public Defender II Senior
Public Defenders’ Department 
Legal Aid and Advisory Authority,
23 Stanmore Avenue, Port of Spain.
Contact: 638-5222 
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.