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New sentencing guidelines to be released next week

Published:Saturday | September 17, 2016 | 12:00 AMChristopher Thomas

High Court Justice Vivienne Harris has announced that new sentencing guidelines are to be released next week to speed up the progression of court cases and make the plea-bargaining process easier for defendants.

"The sentencing guidelines will be released next week ... . There is no more mystique surrounding the sentencing that will be passed," Harris said yesterday while addressing the opening of the St James Circuit Court's Michaelmas session.

Harris said that the new guidelines would make it easier for defendants to enter guilty pleas early enough to avoid an extended court procedure and to prevent a backlog of cases in the court system.

"There is no need to fear for those who wish to offer a plea if they are, in fact, guilty of the offence," said Harris. "We are in a new dispensation, and we have to change our legal culture in Jamaica."

Harris' announcement follows recent statements by Minister of Justice Delroy Chuck that a plea-bargaining legislation is currently being revisited to make the process more bearable for defendants.

"There is actually a plea-bargaining legislation now, but it is not operating the way it should, and that is the legislation which we are now redoing to make it more attractive for persons to plead guilty," Chuck told reporters on Thursday, September 8.

"If a person pleads guilty now, he does not know how he is going to be disposed of, so he pleads guilty and expects that the judge will give him a lighter sentence, and usually it happens, but I think that for plea-bargaining to work properly, the accused must have some idea of what will happen to him after he has pleaded guilty," Chuck continued.

The Criminal Justice [Plea Negotiations and Agreement] Act was enacted in 2006 to encourage accused persons to plead guilty and give testimony or information in exchange for a reduced penalty. The legislation was amended in 2010, but has been criticised by members of the legal fraternity who say it does not provide enough incentive for accused persons to plead guilty.