- The Bill was passed in the Upper House in late April of this year.
- Currently there are inordinate delays in the conduct of preliminary enquiries.
- The Bill, therefore, seeks to get rid of preliminary examinations or enquiries.
Debate on the Committal Proceedings Act 2013, which seeks to eliminate preliminary enquiries in Resident Magistrates’ courts,commenced in the House of Representatives on Tuesday, September 23.
Attorney General, Hon. Patrick Atkinson, who opened the debate, outlined that the aim of the legislation is to alleviate or reduce problems caused by and related to inordinate delay, high legal costs and the unavailability of witnesses to give evidence.
The Bill was passed in the Upper House in late April of this year.
A preliminary examination is a criminal proceeding conducted by a Resident Magistrate to determine whether a serious indictable offence for which an accused is charged is within the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court.
The principal objectives of that preliminary examination are to inform the accused of the nature and content of the case against him/her and to determine whether there is a prima facie case against the accused and to this end, witnesses are called to cross examination.
If a prima facie case has been established, it also defines the issues to be presented to the circuit court, and if not, the Magistrate would discharge the accused.
Mr. Atkinson said that currently there are inordinate delays in the conduct of preliminary enquiries for various reasons. He noted that there is a monumental backlog of these cases, “which contribute to the ultimate delay in the disposal of the matters, because if they are stalled in the Resident Magistrates Court, they obviously cannot be tried in the Supreme Court”.
He noted that in addition to being conducive to delays, the requirement for the attendance of witnesses to give live evidence exposes them to the additional opportunity for inappropriate interference, for intimidation, and even physical harm, especially in cases involving vicious criminals and criminal networks.
Mr. Atkinson informed that the Bill, therefore, seeks to get rid of preliminary examinations or enquiries and to establish a new proceeding to be called committal proceedings.
The committal proceedings will satisfy all the aforementioned objectives of the preliminary enquiries, by allowing a Magistrate to examine witness’ written statements collected by the police and decide whether an accused person is to stand trial in the circuit court.
This, he said, will also help to speed up cases through the courts.