The Committal Proceedings Bill, which seeks to abolish preliminary enquiries, has been sent to a Joint Select Committee of Parliament for further deliberations.
Minister of Justice, Senator the Hon. Mark Golding, who opened the debate on the Bill in the Senate, on July 20, said that the legislation sought to alleviate or reduce problems related to inordinate delay, high legal costs and the unavailability of witnesses.
"The conduct of preliminary enquiries has contributed to the delay in the justice system, significant case backlog and increased legal cost. In addition, the requirement for attendance and the giving of live evidence by witnesses, exposes them to heightened risk of interference, intimidation and even execution, especially in cases involving vicious criminals and criminal networks," Senator Golding said.
He further noted that the Bill seeks to abolish preliminary examinations and introduce committal proceedings.
"It provides for the committal of an accused person charged with an indictable offence based on written statements submitted to a Resident Magistrate (RM). A witness will only be required to attend the proceedings where the RM is satisfied that oral testimony will be necessary in the circumstances of the case," the Minister said.
The debate on the Bill was suspended based on a request by Leader of Opposition Business in the Senate, Arthur Williams, who argued that passage of the Bill will not reduce the backlog of cases in the justice system.
"While the abolition of preliminary enquiries is good in theory, I urge the strongest caution in proceeding with this Bill," he said.
In his response, Senator Golding said the desirability for moving away from preliminary enquiries to committal proceedings is something that was highlighted in the Task Force report of justice reform in 2007.
"Work was substantially done and further research was done with the aid of people who are in preliminary enquiries and some adjustments were made to accommodate detailed matters that are now dealt within the Bill relating to, for example, persons who are deaf," the Minister added.
"I am not averse, in light of what I have heard, to sending this (Bill) to a Joint Select Committee. No one is saying this proceeding is a panacea for all our problems in the court system or the issue of delay. This is one of several things that have to happen to make the court system more efficient. (However) I am prepared to suspend the debate, so this matter can be sent to a Joint Select Committee and discussed further there," Senator Golding said.
For his part, Senator Williams gave an assurance that the Opposition members on the Joint Select Committee, "are going to do everything to co-operate, to ensure that the work is done in a timely manner and that we can get back to debate on this Bill as early as possible."