KINGSTON — Cabinet has approved the tabling of a Bill entitled, “The Committal Proceedings Act, 2011”, in Parliament, to abolish preliminary enquiries in Resident Magistrate’s Courts.
Minister with responsibility for Information, Telecommunications and Special Projects, Hon. Daryl Vaz, told Wednesday’s (June 8) Post Cabinet media briefing, at Jamaica House, that the Bill aims to abolish the existing procedure of preliminary enquiries in cases of indictable offences, and replace them with a new committal proceedings regime.
He pointed out that, currently, the three principal objectives of preliminary enquiries are to: inform the accused of the nature and content of the case against him/her; determine whether there is a prima facie case against the accused and, if so, define the issues to be presented to the Circuit Court, or to discharge the accused if there is no case.
“Over time, issues have developed in relation to the carrying out of preliminary examinations, and the final report of the Jamaica Justice System Reform Task Force of 2007 highlighted the need for the abolition of preliminary examinations on a phased basis,” Mr. Vaz recalled.
Debate has been raging over the past two decades, as to whether preliminary enquiries are necessary. The majority Government and Opposition positions have been in favour of abolishment.
Former Opposition spokesman on National Security, Dr. Peter Phillips, had expressed support last year, stating that abolition would result in a speedier delivery of justice, which would also factor into a reduction in crime.
Psychologists and spokespersons for children’s and women’s groups have also supported the move stating that, if preliminary enquiries are abolished, people would be more inclined to report sexual offence cases, for example as there would only be one hearing and victims would not have to go through the ordeal of giving evidence twice.
However, lawyers appear to be split on the issue, with those in support noting that with the enquiries it takes two to three years, sometimes, for cases to reach the higher Court, while those against claiming that preliminary enquiries give the Court an opportunity to weed out cases without merit.
Mr. Vaz said Wednesday that the abolition of preliminary enquiries will ensure greater protection for witnesses, as well as address significant delays and increasing legal costs.
By DOUGLAS McINTOSH, JIS Reporter