Daraine Luton, Senior Staff Reporter
ATTORNEY GENERAL Patrick Atkinson expressed strong opposition to a suggestion from the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions regarding the practice of giving unsworn statements in criminal cases.
The DPP's office, in comments on the committal proceedings bill, said the time had come for unsworn statements to go.
"Fundamentally and jurisprudentially, we have a problem with new criminal legislation seeking to perpetuate the existence of the unsworn statement rather than staking it in its heart and putting it to rest once and for all," the DPP's office said.
But Atkinson told The Gleaner on Wednesday that he disagreed with the suggestion.
"I don't think that at the stage of a committal proceedings it is necessary to abolish it. The standard of proof required there is merely to establish a prima facie case, and if the accused man gives an unsworn statement there I don't see what harm is done," Atkinson reasoned.
He added: "In any event, the reality is that most accused reserve their defence and make no statement at all at the preliminary stage."
An unsworn statement is one made by an accused person, setting out the accuser's version of the facts, but which is not on oath and not subject to cross-examination.
The retention of the right to make an unsworn statement continues to be a matter of considerable controversy in many jurisdictions. On Wednesday, Justice Minister Mark Golding glossed over the comment from the DPP's office but said it needed to be dealt with later.
"That is for another day, not for this legislation," Golding remarked as he chaired the joint select committee on the committal proceedings bill.
However, there was a sharp retort from committee member Lambert Brown who said "that's for no day at all".
Golding, however, insisted that Parliament would have to confront the issue.
"That must come at some point, it has been the trend internationally," he said.