JIS News

More than four years after Parliament approved the Criminal Justice (Plea Negotiations and Agreements) or “Plea Bargaining” Act, the Senate passed the regulations that will govern the Act on Friday (February 12).
Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Senator the Hon. Dorothy Lightbourne, said that the provisions of the Criminal Justice (Plea Negotiations and Agreements) Regulations and the Legal Aid (Excepted Offences) (Amendment) Regulations were urgently needed for the Act, passed in November, 2005, to become effective.
Senator Lightbourne explained that plea bargaining provides for accused persons to plead guilty to lesser offences, or to only one or some of the offences on a multi-count indictment, in return for a lesser sentence than would be expected under the graver charges.
She said that it is mutually beneficial because the state benefits from the faster disposition of criminal matters, while it assists in obtaining much needed information from accused persons that will assist in the apprehension of other individuals or entities engaged in illegal activities.
“Jamaica has for sometime been grappling with rising levels of crime and, in particular, the growth of organised criminal gangs and entities. Where the security forces have been able to apprehend the foot soldiers, the organisers have often escaped apprehension and are able to continue their illegal enterprise,” she pointed out.
Senator Lightbourne also stated that plea bargaining allows the prosecutor and the accused, through legal representation, to co-operate to the benefit of the accused as well as the state in its efforts to infiltrate criminal gangs.
Currently the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) conducts plea negotiations under the common law, but the Act and the accompanying regulations will provide a uniform structure and a clear procedure for the conduct of such negotiations.
With regards to the Legal Aid (Excepted Offences) (Amendment) Regulations, Senator Lightbourne explained that the amendments will support the initiative.
“Plea agreement cannot be entered into with an accused person who is unrepresented. The normal practice is that Legal Aid is only available after the accused person demonstrates an inability to afford his own private attorney, as determined by a means test which the Legal Aid Council administers,” Senator Lightbourne said.
There are certain offences which are exempted from the grant of Legal Aid to an accused person. Therefore the Legal Aid (Excepted Offences) (Amendment) Regulations must be amended since the Criminal Justice (Plea negotiations and Agreements) Act provides that an accused, charged with any of those offences, is now able to access Legal Aid.
These offences include the manufacturing, importing, exporting and taking steps preparatory to exporting, selling or otherwise dealing in dangerous drugs.
“In order to facilitate persons charged with serious offences who are not entitled to Legal Aid, we are now making provision that for those offences, if they wish to enter into plea bargaining, they will get Legal Aid and will have the benefit of an Atttorney,” Senator Lightbourne added.
Government Member, Senator Tom Tavares Finson, stated that it was important for the Senate to pass these legislations to give the police the tools they need to fight crime. The Senate approved both sets of Regulations without any amendment.

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