Tue | Sep 18, 2018

Norman Lee | Think again, Minister Chuck

Published:Monday | October 30, 2017 | 12:00 AM

Justice Minister Delroy Chuck is meeting objections to this new approach of plea bargains ('Chuck defends plea-bargain system', October 27, 2017) because it is promoted and perceived as getting rid of the Government's problems surrounding the woeful and inadequate resources and infrastructure of the justice system. Accused persons are not interested in helping the Government with this problem.

Plea bargain has its use and works in other jurisdictions. It appears to be the solution to the huge backlog generated over decades. We all know that the cases result from exponential increase in crime - beyond the capacity of the justice system to dispose of cases without infringing the constitutional rights of accused, a right to trial in a reasonable time, and I will dare to say the actions/tactics of the defence lawyers.

On one hand, the accused, who is innocent and in so far as his lawyer has assured him based on the evidence disclosed by the prosecutor, will reject any plea arrangement that will send him to prison or obtain a criminal record, by his own act, just to help the Government out of its problem. Many will feel severe pressure to plead guilty because of the sword of Damocles hanging over their heads for years and having to find money to keep paying for their lawyers' service. The likely result is that some will bite the bullet and plead guilty, but not in the quantities that Minister Chuck desires.




On the other hand, those accused who know that they are guilty seem to prefer to take the risk - let the prosecution prove me guilty if, after such long time, they can find witnesses. Such persons don't care about the size of the backlog and they believe that the series of delays is favourable to them beating the system. Furthermore, a jury of his peers gives them, they feel, a favourable chance of acquittal.

Defence lawyers' caseload, whether arising from greed or reputation, and judges' accommodating approach, result in the undesirable situation that cases are scheduled to fit the lawyers' timetable. It does not require a genius to deduce that the under-resourced justice system is easily manipulated, with the prospect of increased earnings for defence lawyers.

This is so because in-between hearings and trials, far apart, more cases arise because of the tsunami of crime, and scheduling is now way into the future. I doubt that there are droves of lawyers rejecting cases from accused because their timetables are extensively booked! Any first-former can deduce that lawyers have no interest to help the Government reduce the backlog! Sad, but true, high crime guarantees food for lawyers; plea bargains do not!

Minister Chuck has to find a more palatable pitch for his plea-bargain system.

An avenue that may be worth the effort to assault the backlog is the accused filing constitutional motions regarding their right to a trial within a reasonable time. A judgment on that issue would, like Pratt & Morgan, set a maximum time to have a case disposed. Constitutional cases are usually expeditiously scheduled and disposed. This would allow human-rights lawyers to demonstrate their sincerity by acting for accused before the court.

Unfortunately, Minister Chuck can't implement this himself.

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