Faster criminal proceedings as new Criminal Procedure Bill passed in National Assembly

0

As part of the government’s agenda to modernise Guyana’s jurisdictive architecture and enable an efficient criminal justice system, a modern and comprehensive Criminal Procedure (Plea Discussion, Plea Agreement and Assistance) Bill of 2024 was conceded by the National Assembly late Friday night.

This bill is one of the modern features of legal systems globally and repeals and replaces the current Criminal Procedure (Plea Bargaining and Plea Agreement) Act Cap 10:09, which is deemed inadequate in today’s modern world.

Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Mohabir Anil Nandlall, SC, who championed the bill, emphasised that the pre-bargaining system in Guyana will adhere to established standards of practice in the United States of America and the United Kingdom as the bill was crafted with the best bargaining models in mind.

He further noted that it is another form of alternative resolution, which has proven to be an effective tool in increasing efficiency in the justice system, as opined by international experts.

“It is another form of alternative resolution, this time in relation to criminal cases without the resort to a full-blown trial. In short, it allows the prosecution, the defence and the jury to decide whether or not to allow the prosecution to be able to do so,” Nandlall informed the House.

He highlighted that “It safeguards certain scared principles and concepts to ensure that there is justice in the end, protecting the defendant’s interest, the victim’s interest, the public’s interest and maintaining the principles of public morality, while at the same time ensuring that criminal conduct is fairly and justly penalised.”

The bargaining mechanism, when fully implemented, will drastically reduce the workload in the country’s criminal justice system and bring much-needed speed and efficiency in the disposable of criminal cases.

It will also allow for scare judicial resources to be spent on cases that are deserving trials while saving billions of dollars in public funds.

“Pre-bargaining agreements, as I am sure you know, are just one part of the overall strategy in the criminal justice system to improve efficiency and reduce backlog, while ensuring the protection of individual rights and rehabilitation of offenders,” Nandlall stated.

“It is our belief that the legislation as it now stands will effectively achieve that balance. Pre-bargaining pre-agreements avoid the trials, the re-traumatization of victims, and allow for a harmonious approach to the admission of guilt for the promise of a reduced sentence,” he underscored.

In order to ensure fairness, transparency, and adherence to the principles of freedom of choice, Minister Nandlall pointed out that certain key elements must be present during plea discussions, agreements, and the subsequent plea hearing process.

These measures, he said, are necessary to ensure that the public interest is respected and appropriate sentences are imposed on criminal offenders and is contained within the bill.

One principle is that the accused should not be forced or pressured into pleading guilty. The agreement and subsequent plea must be made willingly and with full knowledge.

This means the accused must always be informed of their rights and given the chance to consult with an attorney at law.

Secondly, the prosecution must possess knowledge of and take into account all pertinent factors when choosing whether to participate in the negotiations.

Thirdly, the prosecution must possess knowledge of the potential course of action to which the accused may consent.

The judge must also consistently investigate and confirm that the negotiations, agreement, and plea are the outcome of a well-informed process where the accused is fully cognizant of their rights and has been given ample time to obtain legal counsel.

The fifth requirement is that the procedures for pre-bargaining hearing must be unambiguous and all parties must be afforded a fair opportunity to present their arguments.

The sixth principle entails granting each party the right to withdraw from the process and the agreement under justifiable circumstances. If it can be demonstrated that a plea was acquired in an inappropriate manner, such as fraud or serious misrepresentation, then the plea should be invalidated.

Minister of Local Government and Regional Development, Sonia Parag voiced her utmost support for the bill. She emphasised that this is much-needed in Guyana’s judicial landscape.

These sentiments were also echoed by Member of Parliament, Sanjeev Datadin.

This Bill is divided into five (5) Parts and contains thirty-eight (38) clauses. (DPI)

Advertisement
_____
Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.