• JIS News

    The Criminal Justice (Plea Negotiations and Agreements) Act to pave the way for the implementation of a structured plea bargaining process in the justice system was yesterday (November18) approved by the Senate.
    The provision commonly referred to as the Plea Bargaining Bill, is designed to give statutory recognition to plea negotiations and agreements some five years after it was first recommended to the government by a private sector led report of the Washington based Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) report.
    The Act allows the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) or any person authorized by the DPP and the accused, through his attorney-at-law, to negotiate and enter into a plea agreement.
    The new regime seeks to reward a person who has entered into a plea agreement and is cooperating with law enforcement authorities or whose cooperation is beneficial to the administration of justice. In the meantime, to ensure that the plea is voluntary, the accused is granted a right to representation by an attorney-at-law.
    Attorney General and Justice Minister, Senator A.J Nicholson, who piloted the legislation, said under the agreement the accused could agree to plead guilty to a specified charge and the DPP may agree to recommend to the Judge or Resident Magistrate that the original charge be withdrawn or discontinued, or that the accused pleads to a lesser offence than the one he is charged with.
    He argued that instead of being an attempt to “fetter the discretion of the Court,” it “was really an attempt to catch the Kingfish, as if a person was going to plead guilty to a charge in exchange for giving evidence, there must be some kind of bargaining chip.” He said while it was not possible to legislate what the sentence would be, it was possible to include a guide. The accused however is not allowed to know before hand the type of sentence that will be made but will know that the sentence is reduced.
    Senator Nicholson however emphasized that the Court would not accept a plea agreement even when negotiations had been closed, if the interest of justice was not being served.
    In the meantime the Attorney General said individuals who testified after entering a plea agreement would have their evidence treated in the same way as an accomplice whether or not they fell within the category.
    Under the Act every plea agreement must be in writing and signed by the DPP, the accused and the accused’s attorney-at-law in each others presence. Any party may revoke a plea agreement before it is accepted by the Judge or Resident Magistrate.
    Furthermore Senator Nicholson noted, victims of crime would for the first time be allowed a voice in the criminal justice process.
    He informed that the Ministry was in the process of developing a Victim’s Charter, which is to be presented to Cabinet. Once approved, it will be brought before both Houses of Parliament as a Green Paper, before passage.
    In the meantime the Attorney General conceded that the Bill would not be liked by everyone as it was felt by some that the provisions could be abused. He noted however that all attempts had been made to put in all the necessary safeguards that would assist the regime to serve the greater good of the society.
    “We need to get to the big fish.so the search for solutions has to be carried out on all fronts,” he stressed.
    In the meantime he said for the Bill to achieve its objectives enhancement of the Witness Protection Programme was needed.
    Senator Nicholson said there would also be a need for reexamination of sentencing options to harmonize them with restorative justice practices, a building and maintaining of trust in law enforcement and other agencies in the criminal justice system, in addition to removing dons and their accomplices.
    Opposition Senator Dorothy Lightbourne while in support of the provision expressed reservations about the opportunity under the Act presented for the accused and his lawyer to make agreements with the prosecutor. “I would prefer that we proceed on the basis as it is at present on the evidence that there is against the accused,” she stated. “I don’t like this exchange of promises, it is a dangerous thing that we are introducing into our justice system,” Senator Lightbourne maintained.
    She however noted that she had no difficulty with an instance where the accused was able to give evidence to the Court which was related to the matter for which he was being charged and thereby aid in the arrest of the mastermind of the crime.
    The Attorney General in his reply conceded that the issue was a tenuous one but could not be avoided. “We are treading on dangerous ground but we have to do that because we are already on dangerous ground, we don’t have a choice…it is a serious piece of legislation,” he stated. The Bill was passed with two amendments.