DPP and defence lawyer hail one-trial legislation
Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Paula Llewellyn and Peter Champagnie, a defence lawyer, have said that it is an "excellent" move by the Government to propose changes to the law to empower courts to order convicted offenders in criminal matters to pay restitution to their victims.
That proposal is contained in the Criminal Justice (Administration) (Amendment) Bill, 2017. It is also accompanied by a one-trial bill - the Indictments (Amendment) Bill, 2017 - which will allow courts, in one trial, to consider more than one offence, arising from one set or a series of related circumstances, against an accused.
An indictment is the document used to charge an offender.
Should have happened
Justice Minister Delroy Chuck opened the debate on the bills in the House of Representatives on Tuesday.
"It's an idea whose time should have come a long time ago," Llewellyn told The Gleaner, noting that the change would help prosecutors perform more efficiently.
"[For example], you may have a possession and dealing in ganja offence, and during the particular enterprise, somebody from law enforcement or some other member of the public is injured. What would happen in the parish court is that you would have to try the summary part, which is the possession and dealing in ganja. At a later date, you would have to try the wounding part."
The DPP said that under the proposed regime, both the possession of ganja as well as the wounding matter would be heard at the same trial.
Champagnie also agreed that the two pieces of legislation were overdue.
"I think they are excellent recommendations. I think the amendment as it relates to indictment saves time. It presents a duality in terms of two matters arising from similar facts being tried separately."
'Unnecessary' inefficiencies in justice system
Currently, cases are tried at different levels of the court system in Jamaica even if they stem from the same criminal act based on the penalty. That stratification creates what is known in legal circles as jurisdictional silos.
Justice Minister Delroy Chuck argues that such a situation makes for "unnecessary inefficiencies" in the justice system.
Indictable offences are tried at the Circuit Court level, while those referred to as summary matters are heard in parish or petty sessions court. Prosecutors have long complained about having to prepare separate cases on accused persons charged with offences arising from one set of circumstances.
"This system only serves to delay the trials of accused persons and clog the justice system. These amendments are low-hanging fruits, and everyone, particularly the accused persons, stand to benefit," Chuck said.
He noted that judges will still be able to order separate trials in cases where the rights of the accused could be affected.
Any restitution order made at the conviction of an offender, Chuck said, is "not intended to abridge the victim's rights" to sue the convicted person in the civil courts.