JIS News

With international crime on the rise and getting more complex, law enforcement officials the world over have had to devise newer ways to tackle this problem.
Consultant on Justice Reform in the Ministry of Justice, Canute Brown says that on the local front, the Government is pro-actively responding to the mushrooming challenges of crime by seeking to enact appropriate legislation, which in some instances, has resulted in amendments being made to several laws.
To confront issues such as terrorism, money laundering and human trafficking, which have all crept into the Jamaican criminal landscape in recent times, Mr. Brown says the government is faced with the challenge of securing convictions in cases which might involve those issues, where evidence exists to justify a conviction.
He explains to JIS News that in seeking to carry out the course of justice, “you want to, at the same time, ensure that the rights of the accused persons, those who are presumed to be innocent until proven guilty, are protected, and that they enjoy the guarantees under the constitution to a fair trial”.
The government, the Consultant notes, is dealing with this by pursuing responsive legislation, with the reform of the justice system taking centre stage in its plan of action.
Since 2004, the Justice Ministry has been looking to amend existing laws to strengthen them even further.
Highlighting the work that has been done to date, Mr. Brown informs that over the past two years, “we have had to, apart from social legislation, such as the Maintenance Act, deal with the question of money laundering, the forfeiture of assets, proceeds of crime, and we have had to look at increasing the supervision of the police force, ensuring accountability and at least endeavour to attain standards that are internationally recognised and accepted”.
“We have had to enact legislation to deal with extortion.we had to amend the Larceny Act, for example. We have had to deal with fingerprint legislation, because there is need to give the police the tools that are necessary to carry out their investigations. Very soon, you will be hearing about DNA, and legislation to put in place the framework or the regime for using DNA in crime detection and prosecution,” he adds.
As fingerprints remain an important part in crime detection and producing hard evidence that links criminals to the scenes of crime, Mr. Brown explains to JIS News that the “new provisions that were put in place by way of amendment to the Fingerprint Act, enable police officers to take the fingerprints of a person charged, along with his photograph, at the time when the arrest is effected”.
Previously, the law stated that the police would have had to take a person who is charged with an offence to the court and upon an order made by the Resident Magistrate, the fingerprints would be taken.
“So this new provision empowers the police, from early in the criminal proceedings.to take the fingerprint of the person who is charged,” Mr. Brown points out.
The revised legislation also provides for the taking of fingerprints of persons under the age of 18.
Insofar as the Criminal Justice (Plea Negotiations and Agreement) Act is concerned, he says “there are some provisions for discounting sentences because of the co-operation of a defendant with the police authorities on a guilty plea”.
Given that the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) is in charge of all criminal prosecutions in the island, Mr. Brown indicates that he has always had the power in certain cases to determine whether or not he proceeds against a defendant for a particular charge, proceeds with a lesser charge, or reduces the number of charges.
He explains that while there is no formalised stipulation in the Jamaican law books that speak pointedly to plea negotiations, it is not an entirely foreign concept and in fact, there are situations where the police can indicate to a prosecutor that a defendant has been co-operative and supplied useful information that assisted in detecting other crimes or leading to the arrest of other persons.
“In this new dispensation in organised crime, we have had to respond to this challenge and to introduce what we consider to be an appropriate tool. so the law authorises the DPP to enter into discussions and negotiations with persons who are charged, represented of course by his attorney-at-law, so there is no direct negotiation between the DPP and the person charged,” he informs JIS News.
This is very important. It also means that a person who is unrepresented, cannot enter into a plea negotiation with the DPP and they have amended the Legal Aid Act, so as to make specific provisions for a lawyer to be assigned to a person who is desirous of entering into negotiations for plea bargaining,”Mr. Brown adds.
He says the government holds the view that, “in order to get to the big players in organised crime, when you arrest an offender who may have participated in the crime with a bigger player or you need information from that person, that can lead to the arrest of others, then you should be able to arrive at an agreement with that person, where he will plead guilty to a lesser charge perhaps, in exchange for a promise from him to give information or assist the prosecution in securing the arrest and conviction of other persons”.
Asked what were the safeguards within the legislation against a defendant wrongfully implicating someone else, Mr. Brown tells JIS News that while anyone could accuse another of committing all manner of crimes, the question of proof was critical.
“If he [the defendant] lies to the court or the prosecution and implicates someone who is innocent, that person is going to be put on trial.” he notes.
The plea bargaining legislation is also significant for other reasons, as it marks the first time the victim of a crime is mentioned in any legislation.
“The victim has a right, or is entitled to be heard when a plea negotiation is agreed to between the DPP and the Defence. The DPP is required to inform the victim that a plea agreement has been arrived at,” Mr. Brown explains.
He says the rationale for getting the victim involved in the process of legislative justice came about as, “for too long, the focus has always been on the person charged”.
“That is why you are going to be hearing about the Victims Charter developed in the Ministry of Justice, dealing with victims, the rights of victims, so this is a first step,” Mr. Brown explains.