Steeper penalties for child traffickers - Lawmakers pass bills to double maximum sentence, allow for judge-only trials
Child traffickers now face up to 20 years in prison, which is double the previous maximum penalty under the Child Care and Protection Act.
The Senate passed companion bills yesterday to amend the Trafficking in Persons and the Child Care and Protection Amendment Acts of 2018.
Human trafficking is the movement of people through force, fraud, or coercion in an effort to exploit them.
Nine out of the 15 cases at various stages in the courts involve child victims, according to Deputy Superintendent of Police Carl Berry, who heads the Anti-Trafficking in Persons, Intellectual Property (Vice Squad).
The bills also provide for the elimination of a preliminary trial in the parish court, enabling a judge to determine if the matter should be sent to the high court.
Leader of Opposition Business in the Senate Donna Scott Motley acknowledged its benefit in terms of reducing trauma for victims, but she said that the inadequacies of the justice system need to be addressed.
"What we're doing is just passing it up because there is no way that these matters can be heard by the number of judges that we have and be done in a timely fashion," noted Scott Motley.
Another amendment to the Trafficking in Persons Act is a provision for judge-alone trials.
Leader of Government Business in the Senate Kamina Johnson Smith argued that in light of the complexity of the crime and criminal networks involved, the possibility of juror intimidation is high.
Opposition Senator Lambert Brown contended that "the citizens have a right to be tried by their peers, and worse, when the sentence is significant. When the issue of freedom is at stake, the citizen who goes before that court should have some confidence of fairness".
Other amendments to the Trafficking in Persons Act will allow judges to order that restitution be paid to survivors and facilitate the establishment of a framework, enabling the minister of justice to ensure compliance with restitution orders.