Plea bargaining law “underutilized”
- Attorney General
Almost four years after the plea bargaining legislation was passed in the National Assembly, Attorney General Anil Nandlall said it is being underutilized.
“The law is being used, but in my humble view it is a facility which is underutilized,” the AG told Kaieteur News during a brief telephone interview.
According to Nandlall, the legislation should be used with more frequency; however it is a facility which largely depends on the parties themselves, the accused person(s), the lawyers, the prosecutors and the relatives of the victim.
He explained that those parties drive the process and success of the legislation. Nandlall further told Kaieteur News that the benefit which can be derived will depend on whether or not the parties are prepared to use it.
The law allows the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), or any prosecutor or attorney-at-law, authorised by the DPP on the one side, and the accused, through his attorney-at-law or by himself, to negotiate and enter into a plea agreement.
The legislation will benefit a person who has entered into a plea agreement and is cooperating with law enforcement authorities, or whose cooperation is beneficial to the administration of criminal justice.
To ensure that the plea is voluntary, the accused is granted the right to representation by an attorney-at-law. The bill was fashioned to help pave the way for reducing the significant backlog of Preliminary Inquiries in the Magistrates’ Court. Under another legislation, a Preliminary Inquiry is conducted for indictable matters.
It was supposed to be brief for the Magistrate to determine whether a prima facie case has been made out, in essence, to decide if there is enough evidence for the accused persons to stand trial before a judge and jury.
When the Bill was passed, it was pointed out that now that the way has been paved for cases to be committed to the High Court faster, the issue of more judges was to be looked at. It was pointed out that there should be at least 10 judges handling the assizes given the already backlogged High Court. However, presently there are two judges handling that.
High court sources had told Kaieteur News that there was a backlog of over 6000 cases.