Probing Justice | Breaking the backlog - Chief justice defends sentence-reduction days
Chief Justice Zaila McCalla remains convinced that despite criticism from some Jamaicans, the recently introduced sentence-reduction days is a good initiative that will reduce the backlog of cases before the courts.
McCalla told The Gleaner that the sentence-reduction days is an initiative that is meant to highlight the existence of legal provisions that permit a reduction in sentence if an accused person pleads guilty.
She noted that the provision for a reduced sentence in the instance of a guilty plea is available in all courts at all levels and at all times.
According to the chief justice, there are times when accused persons may wish to plead guilty, but they would like to have an idea of the sentence that they would receive.
She said that if the accused is given an indication of the likely sentence, the individual would have sufficient information that would aid in the decision of whether to plead guilty.
NO COERCION TACTICS
McCalla noted that accused persons cannot be coerced into their decision to plead guilty as such a plea must be freely given.
A practice direction was issued by the chief justice to enable judges to give an indication of likely sentences.
So far, there have been sentence-reduction days in the Home Circuit Court, the Gun Court, the St Catherine Circuit Court, and recently, in Trelawny.
There are plans to have sentence-reduction days extended to other parishes.
"The backlog of cases is of concern, and judges and other stakeholders have been working tirelessly to implement measures to reduce it," added McCalla.
There has been mixed public reaction to the sentence-reduction days so far, with some players arguing that it allows murderers and other criminals to get off lightly. Others, including a senior member of the defence bar, Queen's Counsel Valerie Neita-Robertson, have endorsed the move. Neita-Robertson said it could lead to a reduction of case backlog, which would be favourable to all stakeholders in the justice sector.