Tue | Dec 12, 2017

Justice minister says more court staff to be hired

Published:Thursday | September 21, 2017 | 12:00 AM
Minister of Justice Delroy Chuck
Supreme Court in downtown Kingston.
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Justice Minister Delroy Chuck has promised that additional staff will be hired to serve the nation's courts.

He informed that Cabinet has signed off on 17 more posts, including 10 Crown counsels for the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.

He said he expects that the instructions will be sent from the Ministry of Finance and the Public Service "forthwith" for the decision to be implemented.

Minister Chuck was delivering a statement in the House of Representatives on Tuesday, where he also informed that the number of criminal courts at the Supreme Court, downtown Kingston, will double from six to 12.

He told the legislators that requests have been made to the finance ministry for the upgrading of existing posts in the courts and for hiring more staff.

He said it is the intention of the Ministry of Justice to shift staff from various agencies of the ministry on secondment to the courts, pending additional staff being provided.

The Michaelmas term of the annual judicial year began on Monday with an overwhelming number of cases to be tried.

In the circuit courts across the island, there are more than 2,000 cases, with 861 serious offences in the Home Circuit alone. In addition, there are more than 35,000 cases in the parish courts awaiting trial.

... Stakeholders urged to make use of plea bargains

Stakeholders in the criminal justice system are being urged to make use of The Plea Negotiations and Agreement Act, which was passed on June 23, 2017.

"We must move away from the prevailing dominant system of trials to a system of pleas. Plea bargain provides the best means to ease the backlog of cases in the criminal justice system and is certainly the appropriate basis to temper justice with mercy," Justice Minister Delroy Chuck said in Parliament on Tuesday.

"Other alternative dispute mechanisms, such as mediation and restorative justice, will also be utilised, as well as stronger utilisation of criminal case management and fuller use of night courts."

He argued that the circuit courts, where serious matters are tried, such as murder, rape and wounding, will not be able to dispose of the more than 2,000 cases waiting to be heard, in the short term.

"The new plea-bargaining legislation must now attract the attention, support and fulsome use of the stakeholders in the criminal justice system - judiciary, prosecution, defence and police," Minister Chuck said.

He noted that the prosecution now has a greater and more active role in leading the plea discussions with defence counsel, and to agree on an appropriate sentence if the accused person pleads guilty.

 

New role for the prosecution

 

"This is a new role for the prosecution. For the first time in our criminal justice system, the prosecution will be actively involved in negotiating and deciding on the appropriate sentence to be imposed in particular cases. It is a role I expect and urge all prosecutors to take on with energy and enthusiasm," he said.

"If more accused persons plead guil-ty, there will be fewer cases to prosecute. I expect all prosecutors to see the successful negotiation in settling cases as one of their primary duties. In truth, there must be give and take from both sides if there is to be a successful plea bargain and an ultimate plea agreement."

... Law allows room to negotiate a reasonable sentence

Delroy Chuck, the minister of justice, said it is expected that in all criminal cases that are now in the court system, as well as the new matters being filed, the prosecutor will review the file and make an offer, preferably in writing to defence counsel, that based on the allegations, if the accused pleads guilty, the prosecutor will recommend a particular sentence to the court in accordance with the sentence guidelines.

He wants members of the criminal justice system to make full use of The Plea Negotiations and Agreement Act, which was passed on June 23 this year.

"The defence will have the opportunity to make a counter-offer on sentence within the ambit of the guidelines and within reason. The prosecution and defence, therefore, have the opportunity to negotiate a reasonable sentence within the ambit of established sentencing guidelines," Minister Chuck explained.

He informed that in the St James Circuit during the last term, 40 matters were concluded by way of guilty pleas, and in the St Ann Circuit, more than 20 matters were completed by way of guilty pleas.

"But, we have a far way to go. We need to have much more than 50 per cent of accused persons pleading guilty. Plea bargaining has the potential to make a significant dent in the backlog of cases before the Courts," he argued.