The Jamaican Penal Code and the Prevention of Crime Law of 1963 established minimum penalties for certain crimes. Minor crimes are prosecuted in the courts of petty session, headed by justices of the peace, who are also called lay magistrates. The Resident Magistrate's Court and the Supreme Court hear both civil and criminal cases (see Government and Politics, this ch.).
The more serious criminal cases usually are tried in the circuit courts of the Supreme Court. All circuit court trials are jury trials; the jury is composed of seven persons except for homicide cases, which require twelve jurors. A majority of jurors may render verdicts, except in capital cases in which unanimity is required. The resident magistrate, petty sessions, and gun courts hold trials without juries. Most trials, with the exception of the Gun Court, are open to the public.
The Gun Court was established on April 2, 1974, as a combination court and prison to combat the increase in violent crimes involving firearms. It operates as an extension of the Supreme Court and deals with crimes involving guns. The Gun Court Act allowed detention and prosecution of subjects and authorized a single resident magistrate's court to issue prison sentences to those convicted of illegal possession of firearms or ammunition. In July 1975, the Privy Council in London ruled that the Gun Court Act was constitutional. The Privy Council held, however, that mandatory sentences of indefinite detention with hard labor could not legally be imposed by the resident magistrate presiding over the Gun Court.The 1983 Gun Court Amendment Act enabled the resident magistrate courts in all parishes except Kingston, St. Andrew, and St. Catherine to decide whether a particular charge would be dealt with in the Resident Magistrate's Court or should be referred to the Gun Court.No bail is permitted in gun court cases even before conviction; all persons convicted receive an indeterminate jail sentence of up to life, with release given only when these cases are reviewed by the Privy Council.
The 1983 Gun Court Amendment Act eliminated the previously mandatory sentence of life imprisonment. It also removed to juvenile courts the hundreds of cases involving youths under the age of fourteen, who had been given life prison sentences before its enactment; many were paroled. Amnesty International has criticized Jamaican policy on capital punishment, claiming that it contravenes the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ratified by Jamaica in 1975. In early 1987, 170 prisoners in Jamaica remained under sentence of death
Jamaica now is undergoing some really serious changes. It recently has denied its inmates the use of condoms in the prisons. This is, in my own opinion, a dangerous move. To deny that homosexuality exists in the prison system is to put many people on the island in danger. These men are having unprotected sex, come out and infect their mates. Spreading Aids and HIV contracted diseases further. This is just plain wrong, in my opinion.