ODPP makes good case for cybercrime bench trialsFriday, June 11, 2021
The recommendation made by the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (ODPP) for cybercrime cases in the High Court to be tried by a judge alone is, we believe, worthy of serious debate.
It is so because of the technical nature of such offences which, increasingly, are posing a serious threats to governments, businesses, and individuals.
A report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies and computer security company McAfee, released last December, projected that global losses from cybercrime would amount to just under US$1 trillion in 2020, especially as the novel coronavirus pandemic provided hackers with new opportunities to hit consumers and businesses.
Putting security measures in place to counter these attacks, according to the experts, cost an estimated US$145 billion last year.
We note, though, the ODPP's acknowledgement of a concern by the Jamaican Bar Association that the State is slowly reducing the number of matters that are tried by a judge and jury.
However, Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions Mrs Andrea Martin-Swaby has pointed out that the law already provides for cybercrime cases in the parish courts to be tried by judges alone; therefore, there is no reason for the same not to obtain in the High Court.
Mrs Martin-Swaby also argued that if serious offences such as Gun Court crimes, lottery scamming, human trafficking, and some murders are tried without jury, so can cybercrime offences.
It is a reasonable argument that should not be shot down simply on suspicion of a perceived reach by the State to deny accused individuals the right to a trial by their peers.
One flaw in that perception is the inference, though unintended, we believe, that fairness is a rare quality of bench trials.
If that were a real concern the law would not have allowed for bench trials in any matter. What we have seen, for sure, is that there are matters that need expert knowledge of the law.
Also, it is no secret that juries, in a number of instances, tend to be driven by emotion, rather than the law, in arriving at verdicts.
We are not here advocating a dismantling of the jury system. What we are saying is that there are some matters that are extremely technical and ought not to be subjected to raw emotion.
Maybe a compromise in this matter of cybercrime trial could be the inclusion of jurors with some amount of knowledge in information technology and who keep abreast of developments in the sector, as long as it could be done without delaying trials.
Everyone in the judicial system is aware that all accused individuals have the right to a fair trial within a reasonable time, and attorneys have a duty to inform their clients of the availability of bench trials.
The issue, as we said, is one that deserves examination. We look forward to the debate, its conclusion, and effective implementation of the best decision in pursuit of justice.
It is not something that we should drag our feet on because, as the International Criminal Police Organization, better known as Interpol, has told us: “Cybercriminals are becoming more agile, exploiting new technologies with lightning speed, tailoring their attacks using new methods, and cooperating with each other in ways we have not seen before.”
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