Plea Bargaining Act to be amended
Justice Minister Delroy Chuck said that changes are to be made to the Criminal Justice (Plea Negotiations and Agreement) Act in order to make the legislation more effective and to speed up the pace at which justice is delivered to Jamaicans.
The Act, which was introduced in 2006, and amended in 2010, allows persons accused of crimes to plead guilty and give testimony or information in return for a reduced penalty.
Chuck explained that the amendments will, among other things, allow for the defence counsel to be a part of the plea-bargaining process and to negotiate with the prosecutor and judge regarding the sentence to be imposed.
"If the accused knows that... following a trial he can receive a sentence... of 10 or 15 years and he also knows that his defence counsel can bargain with the judge and get five years instead of 10 years, there is a real likelihood that he may accept the plea," the minister stated.
"If there is an agreement, the matter can be dealt with right away. Always in this plea-bargaining process, it will be under the jurisdiction of the judge, who must have the final say."
The justice minister said that victims or their families should have a say in the arrangement.
"So, the prosecutor should really consult with the investigating officer or maybe the victims to say 'The accused wishes to plead guilty, what is your position on this?' and get some understanding or sentiments from them," he noted.
Chuck said that plea bargaining is not intended to "soften" the justice system, noting that sentencing guidelines will be in place to ensure that justice is served.
He said the interests of the victim and public would be taken into consideration.