Chuck banks on new guide for proper statements from cops

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Chuck banks on new guide for proper statements from cops

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

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

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JUSTICE Minister Delroy Chuck is pinning hopes on the newly launched Committal Proceedings Guide to assist police officers in the preparation of professional and proper statements, charging that shoddy groundwork on their part has led to “many” criminals getting off.

The guide, launched by the judiciary on Saturday, provides a step-by-step route through the committal proceedings process. It includes standard forms that should be used and should result in general standardisation of the committal proceedings regime across the island, ensuring that the committal bundles produced in all parish courts are of a uniformly high standard.

Committal proceedings are used to determine, among other things, whether there is sufficient evidence to require the defendant to stand trial. Under the Committal Proceedings Act, 2013, criminal cases that would normally be subjected to a preliminary hearing in the parish courts are now sent straight to the high court without a hearing, once the statements are completed. The Act was passed to speed up criminal trials by doing away with the old form of preliminary enquiry, allowing statements to be used at the proceedings rather than the witness having to come and give live evidence.

Speaking Saturday, the justice minister said it was hoped that the guide would be highly beneficial to all parties involved in committal proceedings.

“There is a great burden on the police. Far too many criminals who should be found guilty get away because the material and the statements collected by the police are insufficient and sometimes inconsistent. As one who has been at the Bar, criminals are getting bail, cases cannot go to trial because the cases have not been properly prepared by the police, because the material is insufficient, because, with due respect, police officers have not been professional in their focus on the case — not only in getting that material ready, but also in ensuring that witnesses are available for trial,” Minister Chuck said.

“I would say there is a burden on the police to ask the director of public prosecutions or the judges to use this guide to assist police officers when they are taking statements.

“In other words, the statements that they take when an accused or someone is charged, or the case is to come to committal proceedings, make sure that the witnesses whose statements are to be used are not only comprehensive but that they definitely have all the material to ensure that either the accused will be acquitted at the proceedings, or the material is there that the parish court judge can say, 'Yes, this can go to the Supreme Court'.

“If it is clear-cut that this is the man that committed the offence, it should be so complete that when defence attorney sees it, he tries to persuade the accused, 'It nuh mek sense going to trial, because if this material comes out you are sure to be convicted',” Chuck said.

He further appealed to Deputy Commissioner of Police Fitz Bailey, who represented the police commissioner at the function, to “find a way for training of the police officers to make statements that are proper, put together professionally, so that when the parish court judges see them, he or she can make a decision without any difficulty”.

“Quite frankly, we have far too many situations within this country where people are not trusting the justice system, but one of the reasons is because it starts out from the beginning where the material, when it comes before the court, is inadequate and so when accused persons are acquitted, people say, 'Man get off', and lawyers say, 'Justice is done', but the truth of the matter is that unless the evidence is persuasive and fulsome, then it's difficult for a judge or a jury to convict.

“Let us put this guide to use so that the guilty can be found guilty, the innocent can be acquitted, and we can move quickly to have cases speeded up,” the justice minister said.

Chief Justice Bryan Sykes, speaking ahead of the minister on Saturday, urged judges, lawyers, both at the private and public Bar, and the police, to become familiar with the guide.

“It reduces cost, enhances certainty, and improves efficiency. Committal proceedings means the case gets to the Supreme Court at a faster rate,” he said, adding, “we are still calling a lot of unnecessary witnesses”.

“We have had trials in the Supreme Court, multiple defendants, a witness will come, spend two to three hours giving evidence, and no questions. Why are we still doing that in the 21st century? What should really have happened is that, with thorough and proper preparation coming through the case management process, we know what the issues are and so we are in a position to make informed decisions concerning what can be considered agreed evidence and not agreed, as the case may be, and it is important for us to embrace and to think about new ways of doing things,” the chief justice pointed out.

He said it is hoped that with the guide and the other measures already in the law, that even with the COVID-19 difficulties, cases should still be going through at an acceptable rate.

In the meantime, Director of Public Prosecutions Paula Llewellyn, who in times past bemoaned the growing case backlog as a result of the Committal Proceedings Act, commended the measure.

“As far as the ODPP [Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions] is concerned, this is a great day. Chief Justice, before you took office, it almost reached a stage where I was tempted, if I was the type, to block roads and demonstrate...because when the operationalising of the Committal Proceedings Act took place, it released a tsunami that at the office, it had us going right through almost 24 hours, and we saw from then that standardisation in terms of the administrative practices at the parish court level would be a great win for the administration of justice,” Lewellyn said.

She said her office has been working with the police to develop cases to the point that they can be brought to trial successfully, noting that the number of guilty pleas turned in over the past three years was testament to the combined efforts and work.


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