Mon | Dec 11, 2017

Editorial | Sentence-reduction days, but more

Published:Monday | October 23, 2017 | 12:00 AM

This initiative may, to some, carry a whiff of market day huckstering or a haberdasher's discounting rather than a proper dispensing of justice. But if it helps in clearing the logjam in Jamaica's courts, then it has the support of this newspaper. So far, it seems to have potential.

But even as prosecutors and others continue to market the value of the sentence-reduction days in the island's courts, they must accelerate other programmes as well as reach for other available tools to add rev to the slow-turning wheels of the Jamaican justice system.

The second of these so-called sentence-reduction days was last Friday. Essentially, anyone who pleaded guilty to a criminal offence in the island's High Courts on that day was promised a substantial reduction on their sentence when it is passed - between 15 and 50 per cent, depending on the timing of their plea in relation to the start of their trial. In the case of murder, the reduction could range between a third and 15 per cent.

 

Small dent

 

Forty accused persons made use of the scheme on Friday, which is more than double the number when it was rolled out in May. This, on the face of it, is minuscule for a system with a backlog estimated at between 250,000 and half a million cases. But in a circumstance where long delays mean that both the alleged perpetrators of crimes and their victims are denied justice, any movement counts.

Indeed, the benefit is apparent in how Paula Llewellyn, the director of public prosecutions, frames the value of her office not having to pursue these 40 cases. According to Ms Llewellyn, some of the indictments called for more than a dozen witnesses and would result in trials that eat up significant chunks of time. "I would say ... if you were to try all these cases, you would be talking about up to three months of trial time."

Those three months, hopefully, Ms Llewellyn and her prosecutors, judges, lawyers, and others in the system can put to dealing with the tens of thousands of other outstanding cases. And perhaps, in the meantime, they can also clear up a few issues.

 

Inequality in justice

 

The law that facilitates these sentence reductions was passed in 2015. The first of these fair days was five months ago. Yet the arrangement has not yet been rolled out in all parishes. We are not clear why this is the case. The public deserves an explanation, including whether its apparent absence - or, at least, lack of profile - in some places equates to inequality in justice.

Further, insofar as we interpret the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act of 2015, it doesn't prescribe special days when guilty pleas for sentence reduction should take place. What it seems to do is to afford the greatest reduction to persons who plead guilty at the first available opportunity. Thereafter, the reductions decline based on the point in the proceedings the accused person decides to plea guilty. If this interpretation is correct, it is not unreasonable, we believe, to ask why the scheme is being heavily promoted consistently, with this heavy emphasis on Sentence-Reduction Day. There is perhaps an exceedingly plausible explanation.

Further, maybe Justice Minister Delroy Chuck, Ms Llewellyn, and others in the justice system might address why there seems to be no, or at best muted, promotion of the recently upgraded plea bargaining law and the tools available therein.