Game-changing plea negotiations law passed in Lower House
The Plea Negotiations and Agreement Act, 2017, which provides for a system of plea negotiations and agreements for persons who commit crimes, was yesterday passed in the House of Representatives with 11 amendments.
Crafted with the intent of giving accused persons the opportunity to offer a guilty plea in exchange for a lighter sentence, the policymakers envision that this piece of legislation will assist in reducing the backlog of cases in the courts, which Justice Minister Delroy Chuck estimate to be in the tens of thousands.
Closing the debate on the bill in Parliament yesterday, Chuck argued that if the number of judges and personnel in the courts were doubled and the number of courts were significantly increased, this would not be sufficient to try all the cases in a timely manner.
He reasoned that if the new plea bargaining law was "taken and fully adopted by the Jamaican Bar Association, by the prosecution, by the judiciary, my hope is that it can have a significant effect on the backlog of cases".
Making his contribution to the debate earlier, National Security Minister Robert Montague described the law as a "game changer in Jamaica's justice landscape".
According to Montague, in recent times, the police have sought to negotiate with accused persons, especially those charged with gun crimes.
"It is one thing to hold a person with a gun. The question that must be asked, 'Where did they get that gun?'" the minister queried.
"What the police are doing of late is saying, 'If you can give us information about the gun that you have and to assist us to hold on to other persons we will not oppose bail', and what has been happening is that there has been a significant jump in the number of guns that we have been picking up off the streets since January 1 this year," Montague reported.
However, one legislator expressed caution about how the new law will be implemented. Attorney-at-law Leslie Campbell, who is member of parliament for St Catherine North East, said that there was only anecdotal evidence that the provisions would help to reduce the backlog of cases in the courts.
He urged caution in how some provisions in the bill are implemented.
"Given the history of prosecutors in Jamaica, which is perhaps not one which covers itself in glory, we should be mindful of what we do in going forward," said Campbell.
Campbell said that he was concerned about provisions in the bill that allow for negotiations with the prosecution. "I was of the view that the negotiations would be conducted with the plea judge and not the prosecution," he said.