A Jury of Peers - Jury Selection in Malta
by Dr Renè Darmanin - Associate
This article is the first part of a series of articles about the trial by jury under Maltese Criminal Law.
The approach behind the modern day trial by jury can be traced back around eight hundred years, more specifically to the Magna Carta (1215). One of the clauses of this charter of English liberties granted by King John reads; “No free man shall be arrested, or imprisoned, or deprived of his property, or outlawed, or exiled, or in any way destroyed, nor shall we go against him or send him against, unless by legal judgement of his peers, or by the law of the land.” The Magna Carta gave English nobles and freemen the right to trial via a panel of their peers.
At first, the jurors were locals who decided a case on the basis of their knowledge. The disintegration of the middle-age society and the development of new towns altered the function of the jury, which came to be called upon to determine the facts of the case on the basis of the evidence presented in court. By the 15th century, unreasonable approaches of trial such as those where the defendant was tortured, were substituted by the jury trial, which became the predominant method of trial for both criminal and civil cases at common law.
Traditionally, there were demands of possessions and proficiency for jury service. Later, the irregular choice of jurors from the general population in order to attain jurors from all fields of life progressed and became the rule of jury selection.
Within the domestic legal sphere, twice a year, the Commissioner of Police or his representative, the Senior Magistrate, the Attorney General or his representative, the President of the Chamber of Advocates and the President of the Chamber of Legal Procurators meet with the Director of the Criminal Courts and Tribunals to prepare a list of persons appropriately competent to serve as jurors in a trial conducted in the Maltese language as well as another list of jurors able to comprehend a trial conducted in the English language. Such lists are formulated in alphabetical order. From all names recorded in such lists, an additional list is compiled including the names of those persons who are eligible to serve as foremen of the jury. Apart from the general qualifications applicable to all prospective jurors, the foremen must be a person who has already served as a juror in a trial. These lists are published in the Government Gazette in August of each year.
The general rule is that every person of the age of 21 years or upwards, who is a citizen of Malta and still resides in Malta, qualifies to serve as a juror as long as he/she has a sufficient knowledge of the Maltese language and such individual is of good character.
Contrastingly there are some categories of people who are legally exempted from jury duty. These include: those who are interdicted or incapacitated, undischarged bankrupts, persons suffering from a physical or mental incapacity and unfit to serve as jurors, persons who are under trial for any crime, as well those individuals who have been found guilty by a competent court in Malta or by a foreign court, of any crime liable to imprisonment for a term exceeding one year.
Furthermore members of parliament, judges, consuls, clergymen, members of the Armed Forces of Malta and the Executive Police, heads of government departments, magistrates, professors and full-time teachers, health inspectors and probation officers are exempt from serving as jurors. Such exemption shall also apply to physicians, surgeons and obstetricians practicing their profession if such individuals file an application before the Criminal Court in this regard. A person who has the care of a family or of a person who suffers from any physical or mental infirmity shall also be exempt from serving as a juror.
Apart from the above exemptions, any person who may have exceptional reasons for requesting to be exempted, may file an application within 4 days after the service of the summons and if the court believes that the reason put forward is acceptable, then applicant’s name is replaced with another person.
If any person is duly summoned and without sufficient reason, fails to appear on the day of the trial, such person is fined and shall be bound to appear before the court by means of a warrant of escort or of arrest.
In Malta, a jury is composed of the foremen and 8 common jurors. However, the court may decide to appoint up to six other jurors as supplementary jurors. The role of the supplementary jurors kicks in if during the pendency of the trial, any common juror may not be able to continue serving as such due to death-related matter or any other difficulty. In such a case the supplementary juror will replace the common juror and will then be able to take part in the deliberation process.
Dr Renè Darmanin is an Associate at PROLEGAL Advocates.
Disclaimer: This article is not to be construed as being legal advice, and is not to be acted on as such. Should you require further information or legal assistance, please do not hesitate to contact Dr Renè Darmanin at firstname.lastname@example.org.