JIS News

In keeping with his pledge to tackle the scourge of crime and violence, when he assumed office on September 11 last year, Prime Minister, Bruce Golding, tabled six Bills in the Houseof Representatives, proposing several legislative measures to strengthen anti-crime initiatives.
Mr. Golding said although the country still had a long way to go, crime-fighting efforts must be sustained, if the country is to be returned to a state where people can feel safe.
Over several weeks, intense discussions between the Government and the Opposition resulted in the proposals, which include: extended detention of criminal suspects, which will see the period for which a person can be detained extended from 24 to 72 hours, on reasonable suspicion and in the interest of public safety or public order or for the purpose of preventing or detecting crime before being taken before a Resident Magistrate.
“Such detention shall be authorised only by Police Officers of a rank no less than Assistant Commissioner and can only be done within a locality, which is the subject of a cordon or curfew Order or in respect of a person suspected of being involved in criminal activity within the locality,” Mr. Golding outlined.
The measures also impose restrictions on the granting of bail, with the Bail Act to be amended, to include provisions that will see persons charged with a serious crime, not being granted bail for 60 days in instances where they are charged with murder, treason, serious firearm offences, arson of a dwelling house or extortion; or if he or she has had a previous conviction for other specified offences, such as drug trafficking, kidnapping, sexual offences and intimidation of witnesses or persons connected to judicial proceedings.
Provision will be made in instances where bail is granted, for the prosecution to have the right of appeal against the granting of bail and to seek a stay of execution, pending the hearing of the appeal.
As it relates to sentencing, Mr. Golding said that while legislation prescribes maximum sentences, it is within the discretion of the judge to determine the sentence to be imposed in each particular case. “The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in England, has ruled that mandatory sentences are unconstitutional. The Legislature, however, has the right to signal to the Court, the firmness of its intention that serious crimes must attract serious punishment,” he explained.
Therefore, the law relating to penalties for murder, in which the sentence does not involve the death penalty, stipulates minimum periods of imprisonment that must be served before a convicted person is eligible for parole.
Against this background, the Prime Minister proposed to introduce legislation to specify that on conviction for serious gun crimes, a person shall not be eligible for parole before 10 years.
The measures also include qualified majority verdict in non-capital murder convictions, where conviction for murder (both capital and non-capital) requires a unanimous verdict of the jury. Presently, where such a verdict is not obtained, the jury is dismissed and a retrial ordered.
“It is proposed to amend the existing provisions to allow acceptance of a majority verdict in the case of non-capital murder. Such majority must not be less that nine out of 12. The requirement for a unanimous verdict in the case of capital murder where the ultimate sentence is death, will be retained,” Mr. Golding told the House.
Meanwhile, provisions for access to restricted information held by other State agencies was also reviewed. As Mr. Golding noted, while this can assist the Security Forces considerably in the detection and apprehension of criminals, these agencies, however, are prohibited from divulging information except in specified circumstances, which vary widely.
In this regard, it is proposed that provision be made for the Commissioner of Police or Chief of Defence Staff, or an Officer designated by either of them, to apply to a Judge in Chambers, for authorisation to obtain information from these State agencies in criminal investigations.
The use of DNA for evidential purposes is also on the agenda, as Mr. Golding pointed out, DNA technology “has become an important tool in securing conviction where other means of evidence have failed. It also serves to ensure exoneration where persons would otherwise have been wrongfully convicted.”
While the law already provides for fingerprints and photographs to be taken of persons who have been charged with criminal offences, it is proposed to extend these provisions to include the taking of non-invasive DNA samples, and the establishment of a DNA database, to govern access to and use of these samples. Provisions will be made for the person to have the right to obtain a copy of the DNA profile.
Mr. Golding further proposed new provisions for witness testimony. “Our criminal justice system is being undermined by the intimidation of witnesses and the fear which they feel in coming forward to testify in court,” he said.
The proposed provisions will see an amendment of the Evidence Act, to make way for: the giving of evidence and cross-examination of vulnerable witnesses from secure and remote locations; the use of video-taped witness statements; and video-linked testimony for accused persons from remand centres.
Prime Minister Golding, particularly sought to address concerns regarding the issue of space in prisons, given the extension of detention hours. He proposed greater use of non-custodial sentences for non-violent crimes, and for convictions that might involve some level of violence, but not malicious violence.
He said such crimes would include, “the kind of violence that perhaps takes place in a fit of anger that does not involve murder.”
“I do believe that we need to take a serious look at them, because to the extent that these are not persons who are threats to society, then we can find some other way for them to complete their punishment, rather than having them crowd the prisons,” he added.
Mr. Golding was speaking specifically to the question of space rationalisation in penal institutions, in light of the proposal to introduce legislation to specify that on conviction for serious gun crimes, a person will not be eligible for parole before 10 years.
The Prime Minister acknowledged that more persons would, in fact, be serving longer periods incarcerated under the proposed law, and that discussions had been held with the Commissioner of Corrections on this matter, in relation to space. He pointed out that space could be “made”, as presently, there are persons in prison who do not necessarily need to be incarcerated.
“There are various procedures by which they can be taken out of prison – not necessarily released – some of them can be committed to community service. There are some that I think really ought to be referred to the Governor-General. When a man was sentenced at a fairly senior age for a crime, and has now got to a point where he is old and for all intent and purposes, harmless, but he still has four more years to go, there are some instances in which I think some special consideration can be given,” he suggested.
Meanwhile, Mr. Golding informed that the inmate capacity at the Horizon Remand Centre is being expanded, but that the facility already has excess capacity that would be utilised.
“That capacity needs some work in order to bring it into service. That work is being done. It’s not extensive work; there are certain physical facilities or arrangements that need to be put in place. Once that work is finished, we will have capacity there for another 476 remandees to be held. We have initiated arrangements to increase the number of gun courts, judges and support personnel, in order to facilitate more speedy disposal of trials,” he said.
The tightening up of court procedures is also critical to the process, the Prime Minister pointed out. “We expect to see a tightening of the procedures within the courts – the court administration – that hopefully will result in a decrease in the incidents of postponement or deferment of cases,” the Prime Minister said.
“There is greater collaboration taking place now between the police and the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), in the preparation of cases. It was pointed out to us that we (the State) have prepared our cases, in many instances, very shabbily. We are seeking to tighten up on that. It is the DPP’s office that has to argue the cases and therefore they are providing guidance to the police in terms of how the cases ought to be prepared,” he added.
The Bills have now been referred to a Joint Select Committee for its consideration, after which a report will be submitted to the House.
The Bills are: An Act to make interim provision, in relation to the grant of bail in specified circumstances, for accused persons to be detained for up to 60 days on certain charges; An Act to further amend the Firearms Act, to provide for a minimum sentence of 15 years for certain convictions; An Act to make interim provision extending the powers of arrest and detention under Sections 50B and 50F of the Constabulary Force Act; An Act seeking to amend the Bail Act to require the accused to satisfy the court that bail should be granted and conferring on the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), the right of appeal where bail is granted by the court; An Act to amend the Parole Act, to allow for persons sentenced to 15 years to life for specified firearms offences to be denied parole before completing 10 years; and an Act to amend the Offences Against the Person Act, to provide for a minimum custodial sentence of 15 years for persons convicted in the Circuit Court of shooting or wounding.