THE Committal Proceedings Bill, which was drafted by the previous government to support efforts to speed up the course of justice in the courts, is now before a Joint Select Committee of Parliament chaired by Minister of Justice Senator Mark Golding.
The committee had its first meeting at Gordon House last Thursday and should meet again October 18, after a two-week delay to facilitate submissions being sought from a number of bodies including the Jamaican Bar Association, the Advocates Association, resident and lay magistrates' associations, the chief justice and the Norman Manley Law School.
"This piece of legislation has taken a long time to be embraced," Senator Golding noted, referring to the fact that it was proposed during the 1992 PNP administration, was drafted under former Attorney General and Minister of Justice Dorothy Lightbourne, and tabled in June last year but was hampered by a row between Senator Lightbourne and then Opposition senators who wanted it to be sent to a joint select committee, a delay which the minister was trying to avoid.
It was eventually tabled in the House of Representatives in August 2011 by Lightbourne's successor, Delroy Chuck. But although a debate started in October 2011 it was not concluded.
Golding said that it has been "taken on" by the current Government, approved by the Cabinet and was tabled in the Senate in September.
He explained that it is one of several measures, supported by both the current and previous government, to help bring some order to the court system, which has a very severe backlog of cases. It has been referred to a joint select committee because, according to him, "it is apparent that there are concerns".
The Bill seeks to reduce the backlog of cases in the Resident Magistrate's Court by introducing a new procedure called "committal proceedings", to replace preliminary enquiries in the RM Courts.
The Bill proposes the use of written statements in committal proceedings as evidence "to the same extent and effect" as if the person had given real evidence before a resident magistrate. On the basis of this evidence alone, the resident magistrate may commit an accused person to stand trial in the circuit court.
The leadership of the Jamaican Bar Association has expressed support for the Bill, claiming that the preliminary enquiries are both a waste of time and a potential impediment to justice. However, they have said that the Committal Proceedings Bill does not go far enough in addressing the problems.