Jamaican News

Judges now Have Benefit of Criminal Bench Book

Jamaica now has a Criminal Bench Book, which will better aid trial judges in directing juries in criminal cases.

This Bench Book, which was officially launched at The Spanish Court Hotel in New Kingston on Friday (March 17), provides judicial officers with a single publication to which they can turn for guidance in crafting summations to juries.

It will save judicial time in the preparation of summations, and assist in the delivery of consistently predictable, accurate and clear directions to the jury.

Minister of Justice, Hon. Delroy Chuck, in his address at the launch, said a significant feature of the trial process is the communication between judges and jurors, and the guidelines will “go a far way in reducing errors”.

“The most important contribution that this Bench Book will make is towards ensuring the … right to a fair trial,” he added.

The Criminal Bench Book was developed by the Government of Jamaica through funding provided by the United Kingdom (UK) Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Minister Chuck said that the Government will continue to provide the resources to improve the administration of the justice system.

He underscored that much has already been done to enhance infrastructure, standards, accountability, and service delivery.

Mr. Chuck noted that part of the plans to improve the capacity of the system will see the addition of more judges, judicial clerks, and masters, with 17 additional personnel for the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).

The foreword of the Criminal Bench Book noted that judges, up to this point, have had to put together for themselves the material that they need for carrying out the task of directing juries.

This situation has added to the burden of their jobs and led to many variations in the way in which juries are directed.

The publication noted that a number of successful appeals against convictions have been as a result of misdirection to the jury by the trial judge, due in part to the unavailability to the judge of ready access to guidance from a reliable legal publication dealing with the particular offence being tried.

It said, further, that there have been efforts in the past to put together in one place some of the usually required material for summations, so as to achieve consistency, predictability and transparency in summations, and the publication aims to fill that void.

It contains some brief summaries of the more commonplace areas of law encountered in normal Circuit Court experience, areas that summations should address and examples for consideration.

There are also practical suggestions for directions in certain areas of jury and trial management.

There are suggestions as to procedures, which have not been traditionally in use in this jurisdiction, and judges may find them helpful.

However, it is recommended, that consultations with counsel should be a consistent element of implementing any of these innovations. Such consultations will prevent counsel being taken by surprise during summations and avoid grounds of appeal in relation to such elements.

Article by: Garfield L. Angus
Photo from: www.jis.gov.jm

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