GREATER EFFICIENCY OF THE COURT SYSTEM TO COME SOON…SWIFT JUSTICE
The House of Representatives began debate on The Administration of Justice (Indictable proceedings) Bill, 2011 on Friday 18 November, 2011.
The Bill is inconsistent with sections 4 and 5 of the Constitution and therefore, requires a three-fifths majority of votes to be passed.
The full text of the Bill is available in PDF format on this website, you can download it via this link . You may also place your comments directly on this Bill page, which can be accessed here.
The following is a brief explanation of some aspects of the Bill
What is an indictable offence?
An indictable offence is an offence which can only be tried on an indictment after a preliminary hearing to determine whether there is a prima facie case. It is the most serious category of criminal offences and includes offences such as murder, rape, arson, abducting children, perjury, threatening or endangering life and culpable driving causing death
What is the purpose of the Bill?
This bill will revamp the Criminal Justice System which exists in Trinidad and Tobago.
This bill will provide for the implementation of a system of pre-trial proceedings intended to simplify and shorten the criminal proceedings allowing for greater efficiency and effectiveness of the court system.
What are the key features of this proposed legislation?
- A Master shall conduct an initial hearing to verify preliminary issues relating to the identity of the accused, bail and legal representation.
- Initial hearings may be adjourned by the Master but the adjournment shall not be longer than twenty-eight clear days.
- A Master will conduct a “sufficiency hearing” during which he will review witness statements, documents and properly identified exhibits and hear submissions from prosecutor and accused to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to put the accused on trial or to discharge if a prima facie case is not made out. No witnesses are required at sufficiency hearings unless requested by the Master.
- The Act empowers the DPP, within twenty-eight days of discharge, to apply to a Judge for a warrant of arrest if he is of the opinion that the accused ought not to be discharged.
- The Act places restrictions on the publication of particulars in relation to a sufficiency hearing.
- For certain types of offences, limitation period for initiating proceedings of twelve months. If proceedings are instituted but the accused is not placed on trial a Master may discharge the accused.
- A Master may issue a summons where the complaint is without oath and a warrant where the complaint is with oath, to a person accused of committing an indictable offence
- The Director of Public Prosecutions may file an indictment against a person whether or not a complaint is made, if he believes that the person should be put on trial and is also given the discretion to require that certain indictable offences be dealt with summarily.
- The Act specifies time limits between the filing of witness statements and the sufficiency hearing.
- The Act allows no more than one extension of fourteen days to the prosecution to file and serve witness statements, to the accused to retain an attorney and to the Legal Aid and Advisory Authority to provide legal aid to the accused.
- The Act details the conditions for the admissibility of prosecution witness statements.
- An alibi will not be allowed at trial unless the accused gives particulars of the alibi at the initial hearing or in writing to the DPP within forty-eight hours.
- There are specific rules concerning summons. These include:
- Shall be directed to the accused
- Contain a statement of the specific offence
- Require the accused to appear at a certain time and place
- Shall be served by a constable, either personally or left with an adult
- Shall be served not less than 48 hours before the time mentioned for appearance before the Master
- The constable shall attend the appearance of the accused
- There are specific rules concerning warrants. These include:
- May be issued at any time including Sundays
- If a summons cannot be served, then a warrant is issued by a Master for apprehension of the accused
- If an accused was served a summons and does not appear, a Master may issue a warrant for arrest
- Magistrates and Masters empowered equally to:
- Issue search warrants
- Receive complaints on oath
- Issue summons
- Grant bail
- Remand an accused in custody
- An accused not given bail, will be remanded into custody to a prison
- Authorizes the Rules Committee of the Supreme Court of Judicature to make rules of Court relating to proceedings under this Act
- Amends the Act to include the following schedules:
- Schedule 1: Scheduling Order
- Schedule 2: Indictable Offences which may be tried summarily
- Schedule 3: Remand warrant for safe custody during adjournment
- Schedule 4: Remand warrant
- Schedule 5: Order to put accused on trial
- Schedule 6: Offences to which discharge on grounds of delay do not apply
- Schedule 7: Recognisance of witnesses in High Court Cases
- Schedule 8: Consequential amendments
Important issues for consideration:
- The Act is inconsistent with Sections 4 and 5 of the Constitution Infringement of Constitutional and human rights.
- Preliminary Inquiries are thought to be extremely laborious, time consuming, costly, and even prejudicial in some instances where there was adverse pre-trial publicity. Therefore the length and cost of criminal proceedings can be effectively reduced, so that more speedy trials may be achieved in accordance with the constitutional requirement for a fair hearing of criminal offences within a reasonable time
- The preliminary inquiry is considered to be an important safeguard whereby an accused person is able to scrutinize the case. Does the act prejudice the right of the accused to receive full disclosure of the prosecution evidence at the earliest opportunity and the opportunity to scrutinize the case to answer?
- Preliminary Inquiries enable witnesses to give their evidence whilst the matter is still fresh in their minds; the reliability of witnesses is tested, and the prosecution may discover weaknesses in its case at a time when they can still be remedied.
- Elimination of the Preliminary Inquiry will avoid having vulnerable witnesses (e.g. children, sexual assault victims) give evidence twice.
- Will there be a significant number of persons committed for trial on evidence which does not justify a committal?
- There will be a need to increase the number of Judges and Masters within the judiciary as well as improved infrastructure to accommodate the new system?
- Is the Prison System equipped to handle increase/overflow of prisoners due to the faster process?
- Is there any intention to institute criminal procedure rules as other countries that abolished Preliminary Inquiries have done?
Please take the opportunity to access the Bill via the links provided and feel free to submit your comments and concerns to the Parliament.