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  • Debate on the Plea Negotiations and Agreement Act, 2017, which provides for a system of plea bargaining for persons who commit crimes, was suspended in the Senate on Friday, May 26.
  • Piloting the Bill, Senator Johnson Smith, who is also Leader of Government Business, said the Act will serve as a measure to assist in the delivery of justice in a timely manner.
  • The Bill was passed in the House of Representatives earlier this year with 11 amendments.

Debate on the Plea Negotiations and Agreement Act, 2017, which provides for a system of plea bargaining for persons who commit crimes, was suspended in the Senate on Friday, May 26.

Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, Senator the Hon. Kamina Johnson Smith, explained that this was due to concerns raised by Senators on certain sections of the Bill.

“There are suggestions that we will take on board and suggestions that we are not likely to take on board. There are several matters that can be cleared up, and, I think, in the interest of justice and, of course, the best Bill possible emanating from this Senate, I am proposing to close this debate,” she said.

She said the wide-ranging debate focuses on how systemic issues can be addressed with the criminal justice system.

“The Bill seeks to implement, it seeks to find a balance, it seeks to include the voice of the victim, it seeks to ensure that an attorney is provided and, if not, that the person is recommended to legal aid,” the Minister said.

The Plea Negotiations and Agreement Act, 2017 is intended to give accused persons the opportunity to offer a guilty plea in exchange for a lighter sentence.

Piloting the Bill, Senator Johnson Smith, who is also Leader of Government Business, said the Act will serve as a measure to assist in the delivery of justice in a timely manner.

She added that the legislation will assist in reducing the backlog of cases in the nation’s courts.

Supporting the Bill, Government Senator, Charles Sinclair, proposed that an education campaign be undertaken so that Jamaicans can be educated on the benefits of the Act, adding that they will have a greater appreciation for it once they are informed.

 

He further proposed that incentives, such as expungement of records, should be facilitated in “appropriate circumstances”.

For her part, Government Senator, Saphire Longmore, said the Act will engender restoration of faith in the justice system, as “when cases languish, individuals suffer, families suffer, communities suffer and the nation suffers”.

In his contribution, Leader of Opposition Business, Mark Golding, said the Act will serve as a tool to law-enforcement officers in fighting organised crime.

Mr. Golding used the United States as an example where, he says, 90 per cent of cases are dealt with using plea bargaining, and less than 10 per cent of the cases go to trial.

He said the Act will encourage persons to admit guilt with the hope of receiving a lesser sentence.

However, he argued that other mechanisms to support the justice system need to be put in place to ensure that persons may admit guilt.

“Unless we have that in place, plea bargaining won’t be as attractive an option for an accused person, because if persons can take their chances with a system fraught with delay, then why are they going to enter into a plea and face the assurance of some time, as opposed to the possibility of getting off scot-free if the case can be dragged on for years and years,” he said.

The Bill was passed in the House of Representatives earlier this year with 11 amendments.

Debate on the Bill was suspended until a date to be determined.