Tue | Oct 17, 2017

Gov't pushes to have judges alone try gun-murder cases, MP breaks ranks

Published:Wednesday | July 26, 2017 | 12:00 AM
Delroy Chuck
Marlene Malahoo Forte
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Legislation has been tabled in Parliament for a judge alone to try murder cases involving a gun, a provision that got little attention from the Opposition at yesterday's meeting of the House of Representatives that ended in confusion.

But at least one government member of parliament (MP) is against the measure. The MP, however, is unwilling to fight the issue in the Lower House, saying, "Leave it to the Senate."

The proposal was contained on a list of supplemental changes that the Government included in a bill it tabled in June to amend the Criminal Justice (Administration) and the Indictment laws that will allow courts, in one trial, to consider more than one offence that spring from one set of circumstances.

The amendment proposed to Section 6 of the Gun Court Act to allow for cases involving gun murders in non-capital cases to be tried by judges sitting alone was among the new changes introduced yesterday. Currently, accused persons are given an option of judge alone, but the new proposal wipes that away in gun-murder cases.

However, the House did not pass the proposed amendments after members complained that they did not get copies of the changes, a breach of the Standing Orders that govern the operations of the House.

"Mr Chairman," opposition MP Derrick Kellier appealed to Pearnel Charles Sr, who was chairing a committee of the entire House that was considering the changes. "Before the attorney general [Marlene Malahoo Forte] reads Clause 7, [it] has not been circulated or tabled. I don't see it and I don't know what to follow in making a precise judgement on the matter."

The bill was tabled by Justice Minister Delroy Chuck, but Malahoo Forte led yesterday's amendment process.

"I understand the concern," she responded. "This is a matter that is a practical application for the operations of the amendment once they come into law."

"Chairman is not satisfied with the presentation," Charles said at one point.

The situation persisted with even government members later intervening, leading to the suspension of the deliberations until the next sitting of the House, which was not announced. Two MPs, on leaving Gordon House, said they did not understand what was happening.

But there was another issue that unsettled some government members, one of whom later expressed concerns to the The Gleaner about the changes to the Gun Court law.

"Remember, we already dropped the number of jurors who can try a murder matter from 12 to seven, now we are whittling away more safeguards for accused people," said the government legislator, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Another government member, Alando Terrelonge, who is an attorney-at-law, was overheard raising questions about the provision.

Earlier, Chuck argued that the changes are intended to cut the backlog in the courts, a situation he said "is a real, real problem". "We have too many cases that drag on for years."

jovan.johnson@gleanerjm.com