Gov't to review Evidence Act report
MINISTER of Justice Senator Mark Golding says he intends to review the report of a committee which had looked at the controversial Section 31D of the Evidence Act, under the previous Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) administration.
Senator Golding said that he will seek comments from the Bar Association, the Advocates Association, the Jamaica Constabulary Force and the Ministry of National Security, as well as take into account the views of the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (ODPP) to get their recommendations.
Senator Golding was responding in the Senate on Friday to questions raised by Opposition member, Senator Tom Tavares Finson, about the alleged abuse of Section 31D of the Act by members of the police force.
The minister said he was aware of two criminal cases in St James — in which the prosecution relied on Section 31D of the Evidence Act on the signed statement of a witness who had died before the trial — which were either dismissed or discontinued by the DPP as a result of it becoming apparent that the investigating officers had forged signatures.
Golding said that in response to these cases, and in an effort to minimize the breaches, in February the DPP initiated a policy that where the prosecution is left with no choice but to use section 31D(a) of the Evidence Act, that is to rely on the statement of a witness who has died prior to the trial, the DPP will send the statement to the forensic document examiner to verify the authenticity. The examiner's report will be served on the defence, and may be used by the prosecution to give evidential support to the integrity of the statement.
In relation to Section 31D(d), which applies where the prosecution wishes to rely on the statement of a witness who cannot be found, the minister said that the DPP has confirmed to him that where the defence counsel raises concerns, the prosecution is prepared to refer the statements to the handwriting expert.
In the meantime, the minister said the committee which was established in 2008 by former Attorney General and Minister of Justice Dorothy Lightbourne had reviewed the provisions of the Evidence Act relating to the admissibility of written statements in criminal proceedings, in cases where the author is unavailable for cross examination, and made appropriate recommendations where necessary for reform and to ensure fairness.