Attorney General Carl Bethel.
By NICO SCAVELLA
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE conviction rate for serious offences has increased to almost 80 percent, Attorney General Carl Bethel said yesterday.
Mr Bethel, speaking during a ceremony marking the opening of the 2020 legal year, said the conviction rate is 78 percent, up almost ten percent from the 70 percent record in 2018.
However, Mr Bethel also revealed that of the 529 scheduled trials for 2019, just 150, or 28.36 percent were completed. Of those completed, 103 resulted in convictions while 29 resulted in acquittals.
The Attorney General said it is “clear” that a completion rate of less than 30 percent for criminal trials scheduled in any given year is “far below” where his office “needs to be if we are to effectively address the ongoing backlog of serious criminal matters”.
Mr Bethel further revealed that of the scheduled cases, 36.67 percent were served with a voluntary bill of indictment (VBI), thereby fast-tracking the matter to the Supreme Court.
However, Mr Bethel said the average time for being served with a VBI is now two months, a “significant improvement” in the time previously taken to bring an accused person before the Supreme Court.
During last year’s legal year opening, Mr Bethel said the criminal justice conviction rate rose by 10 percent in 2018 from the 60 percent achieved in 2017. At the time, he said, the conviction rate was just over 70 percent for murder and related offences, such as attempted murder and manslaughter.
He also said at the time that the Office of the Attorney General prosecuted 78 murder and related offences in 2017, 54 of which resulted in guilty verdicts while 16 resulted in not guilty verdicts. He said while those figures were “still a ways off” from the 75-80 percent conviction rate his office was targeting, it is still a “very decent conviction rate” when compared with the statistics of “comparable jurisdictions”.
Additionally, Mr Bethel said at the time that 31 cases were disposed of in 2017 by way of a nolle prosequi – or a stop prosecution order – compared with the 92 in 2016, making for a 66 percent decrease.
In 2017, former Attorney General Allyson Maynard-Gibson boasted a four percent increase in conviction rates for 2016 compared to the previous year. At the time, she said the Office of the Attorney General had a 67 percent conviction rate in 2016, and that the conviction rate for murder trials was 75 percent that year.
And during the 2016 legal year opening, Mrs Maynard-Gibson said the conviction rate for 2015 was 63 percent, compared to 31 percent in 2012.