Peter Champagnie | Justice gets a shot in the arm
Serendipitously, within the space of one month, three major developments have taken place that, if fully utilised, will forever change our criminal justice system as we know it to exist.
First, there was the second test run in some of our courts this month of a special day for those accused persons wishing to give early guilty pleas with the assurances of substantial reduction of sentences meted out to them. Second, there was the launch of the Judicial Education Institute of Jamaica, and third, there was the announcement of the long-awaited accreditation to the law programme offered by the University of Technology (UTech).
The concept of special Sentence Reduction Days is a much-needed one and ought to be encouraged. In view of the fact that well over 50 guilty pleas were received by the court over a period of two days in major matters must be sufficient evidence and grounds to call for an immediate expansion of this concept not just within the High Courts, but also all the Parish Courts throughout the island.
While it is recognised that it is not in all cases that defence lawyers will join hands with prosecutors in singing kumbaya in the giving of guilty pleas, defence lawyers must also bear in mind that they have an obligation to be responsible and to give the appropriate advice where the instructions received from their clients are an affront to common sense.
FOCUS ON TRAINING JUDGES
An expanded programme of Sentence Reduction Days will have a tremendous impact on cutting the backlog of cases in our criminal courts.
The launch of the Judicial Education Institute is to be applauded. Within this context, a high premium should be placed on the training of judges in administrative functions. Some judges are far too comfortable in being judges only and are reluctant to take on the additional role of an administrator.
In this new era, the focus of judges must also be to administer cases that come before them and to ensure that they progress in a timely manner towards trial or another means of completion. If this new function is adopted, defence lawyers and prosecutors alike will be compelled to focus on salient issues in the cases before them and not compound them with extraneous issues.
The announcement of accreditation of the law programme offered by UTech is long overdue. Hitherto, students of that university were not guaranteed a place at the Norman Manley Law School that would see the completion of their course of study. In contrast, law students of the University of the West Indies would be guaranteed placement at the Norman Manley Law School. Such a system was iniquitous, inequitable, and, arguably, analogous to institutionalised scamming. That is, UTech law students would, at the end of the day, not have their legitimate and ultimate expectation of becoming lawyers having satisfied initial tuition fees. UTech will now have its own law school.
With accreditation to UTech, however, a word of caution must be given. The legal profession will see a massive increase in the number of attorneys being admitted to practice. As with most things with increased numbers, quality control will have to be heightened in the way of an emphasis on ethics and good practices.
As it is, the public at large has suffered as a result of the professional misconduct of one too many attorneys. We cannot afford for the standard to be compromised in the way of an increased numbers of attorneys.
Appropriately utilised, bearing in mind all the caveats noted, the Sentence Reduction Days, the Judicial Education Institute of Jamaica, and the accreditation of the law programme at UTech may just be the tonic required to aid in the revival of our criminal justice system.