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Friday, July 6, 2012

The criminal justice system has been operating under severe strain for some time and this is not an indictment against those who currently work in the sector. The backlogs at all levels in the courts have been the subject of serious concern and over the years suggestions have been made about measures that could be implemented to make the lists more manageable and to ensure swift justice. We have to start thinking out of the box and give meaningful consideration to policies, procedures and laws that have been passed in other countries that have successfully removed their backlogs and upgraded their respective criminal justice systems. That we have been the beneficiaries of the expertise of foreigners who have shown their willing- ness to assist in the mammoth task of the upgrade means that we can achieve the goal of establishing accessible and available justice for all. The Minister of Justice has proven that he is up to the task and has been able to pass legislation to abolish preliminary enquiries which in itself is a commendable feat. Admittedly, the legislation is not yet proclaimed but the time delay for proclamation is absolutely necessary in order to have the logistics and machinery in place to accommodate this significant change in procedure. The minister is understandably anxious to keep the momentum of upgrade and the country is finally seeing light at the end of the tunnel of justice.


Conference learning
Last week, at a conference for Commonwealth North Atlantic Law Ministers facilitated by the Ministry of Justice, several participants offered ways in which we could reduce our backlog and ensure a more efficient justice system.
Chief Justice Ivor Archie and Justice Mark Mohammed provided recommendations which, if accepted, would guarantee an enhanced judicial process. The complete or partial abolition of trials by jury must be the subject of active debate especially in the context of complex trials and the inability to effectively control the potential prejudicial effects of comments posted on the social media network during criminal trials. How fair is trial by jury, if the jurors do not fully understand the directions in law which are sometimes quite complicated, even with the best effort of the trial judge to explain the concepts in the simplest terms? And has the time come for us to follow other countries that have replaced the jury trial with a single or multiple judges being the arbiters of fact? Encouragement is given to all stakeholders to begin the discussion on the retention of trial by jury and to canvass the views of the wider public in order to ensure the greatest participation on this very important matter.


Three quick wins
 Firstly, I strongly advocate that legislation be passed to allow the admissibility of video-recorded confessions. Such a law would reduce the frequency of objections to confessions, as the footage would prevent the submission of spurious allegations. The technology already exists to record the confessions and to ensure that there is no interference or editing of the footage once it has been recorded. Secondly, I recommend that those trained in law give consideration to the case of R v Goodyear [2005] 2 Cr App R 290 which deals with the ability of an accused to be informed of the maximum sentence he will receive from the trial judge should the accused choose to plead guilty. Attorney Rajiv Persad, when sitting as a High Court judge, delivered a ruling on the applicability of the Goodyear case in our jurisdiction. Reading the ruling would be a good starting point because the Goodyear approach has resulted in more accused people in the UK pleading guilty and thereby reducing the number of matters that go to trial. Thirdly, a strong plea is made to revisit the plea bargain legislation of 1999 which may be in need of a major overhaul. There is insufficient use of plea agreements and it would be helpful to determine the reason for the infrequent use of this law which could be used to reduce the case backlog.


Moving justice
Mention must be made of the tremendous contribution made by Canada and the United Kingdom in the Joint Partnership Project Criminal Justice Programme. The high commissioner for Canada, Karen L Mc Donald and her team, along with Bob Bland and his UK colleagues, have ensured that we have been exposed to the best practices in the criminal justice system in their respective territories. The publication of the Code for Prosecutors (T&T) was a joint initiative that will auger to the benefit of all who seek an accountable and transparent justice system. The shortcomings in the criminal justice system will not be rectified or removed overnight but we must continue to keep our eye on the ball and make bold decisions in the interest of justice.


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