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Golding hints at changes to plea bargaining legislation

BY ALICIA DUNKLEY-WILLIS Senior staff reporter dunkleya@jamaicaobserver.com

Monday, March 10, 2014    

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JUSTICE Minister Mark Golding has hinted at amendments to the Criminal Justice (Plea Negotiations And Agreement) Act, following criticisms that the piece of legislation has not been working.

Senator Golding made the disclosure while closing the debate on the Criminal Justice (Suppression of Criminal Organisations) Act, otherwise called the "Anti-Gang legislation", passed in the Senate on Friday.

He was responding to a comment from Opposition Senator Tom Tavares-Finson that for the Anti-Gang legislation to work, it would have to be supported by other provisions, including the plea bargaining legislation which he said has failed to function.

"There are a number of aspects in that wider framework that I think we need to look at. The first is the plea bargaining legislation passed some years ago and at the time I thought it [was] extremely cumbersome and unworkable. My view is that it has demonstrated itself to be unworkable and that is coming from someone who practises in the criminal courts. I don't think I have seen it operate on one occasion," Senator Tavares-Finson noted.

"We need to relook at the plea bargaining legislation and we need to ensure that it can operate," he said, adding that the system also could not operate without a proper witness protection programme.

"Over the last couple of months we have seen anecdotal references about people who leave the programme. If the programme is not functioning you are not going to get the information (through the plea bargain arrangement) and if you do get the information you are not going to be able to protect the individual, and the whole system you are trying to implement is going to fail so let us look at the plea bargaining and the witness protection programme," Tavares-Finson, a criminal lawyer, further pointed out.

In the meantime, he said the administration should also look at the Interception of Communications (Amendment) Act as well.

"... I know that when the Act was passed in the Senate, provisions were put in place to ensure that the legislation functioned properly and one of the things that concerned the members of both houses was that we were passing legislation which was breaching the rights guaranteed by the Constitution (right to privacy)," he noted.

Senator Golding, in closing the debate, admitted that "the plea bargaining legislation has not been working as was envisioned". He said on that basis a committee had been appointed to revise the provision.

"I am aware that they have made some recommendations. As soon as they are finalised, I will be moving with those to Cabinet for its approval to have the provision amended," the justice minister told the Upper House.

He, however, said he was unable to address the issue of the witness protection programme or the Interception of Communications (Amendment) Act.

On Friday, Government Senator Lambert Brown appealed for a parliamentary committee that focused solely on issues relating to crime and violence.

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