Last week at the opening session of the Supreme Court His Lordship Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin announced some welcome news about criminal justice reform.
He announced a number of reform measures including new criminal procedure rules, new guidelines for police officers relating to their treatment of detained persons, protection of witnesses who may be in danger, and the use of video links to allow prisoners to be present electronically for adjournment and bail hearings, even though physically they may be miles away.
The new police guidelines will require the Commissioner of Police to supervise his policemen to make sure they don’t abuse prisoners under their care. This will reduce “ allegations of police brutality and ultimately boost the number of statements made under caution being admitted into evidence” Justice Benjamin said.
In the future suspects will make digital recordings of what they have to say to the police instead of having a police officer write it all down by hand – to avoid confusion and the hazards associated with documents being lost or compromised.
There is a proposal for the protection of witnesses who need the protection. The court will be authorized to allow a witness to give his or her evidence from a remote location by a video link and from behind a screen. This will “reduce the intimidatory nature of criminal proceedings” Justice Benjamin said.
The use of video links will also make it easier to set up court appearances.
Instead of the need to physically transport a prisoner to court for an adjournment or bail hearing, the instructions can be given by video link, with the prisoner being electronically present to see and hear the proceedings.
But the most significant reform sets out time limits for cases to be developed and presented. Under these time limits no person should have to await trial in the Supreme Court for more than two years.
Shorter time limits will be set for cases in the Magistrate’s court. To give teeth to this new rule, courts will be empowered and expected to dismiss cases not ready for trial within the time limit.
This will put pressure on the police to complete their investigations and preparation of cases within the prescribed time frame.
In calling for these new measures Chief Justice Benjamin declared: “It would be dilatory for the Supreme Court to fiddle while Rome burned. That is to say, it is not an option for the court system to sit on its hands and do nothing while confidence in the administration of justice is being eroded before our very eyes.
“Neither is it acceptable to cast blame, whether upon the quality of the investigation process or the limited number of defence Attorneys, but rather the weakened public confidence in the effectiveness of law enforcement brought on by lengthy pre-trial delays… must be seen as putting the general public at risk and deserving of an urgent response.”