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Trial by judge alone bill tabled for debate

CHIEF Justice Ian Winder, president of the Appeal Court Sir Michael Barnett and former Justice Sir Burton Hall during the Eugene Dupuch Distinguish Lecture’s 25th anniversary meeting in March 2024.

CHIEF Justice Ian Winder, president of the Appeal Court Sir Michael Barnett and former Justice Sir Burton Hall during the Eugene Dupuch Distinguish Lecture’s 25th anniversary meeting in March 2024.

By LYNAIRE MUNNINGS

Tribune Staff Reporter

lmunnings@tribunemedia.net

WEEKS after current and former chief justices called for more bench trials, the Davis administration tabled a bill in the House of Assembly yesterday that would allow people to be tried by a judge alone for indictable offences, a potentially significant change to the country’s judicial system.

The Trial by Judge Alone Bill, 2024, lets accused people waive their constitutional right to a jury trial and choose a trial by judge alone.

The accused must either seek and receive legal advice or waive their right to legal advice.

In joint trial cases, judges can only allow a trial by judge alone if all accused people choose that option.

If someone does not choose a bench trial when they are arraigned, they can do so within sixty days of the adjournment of their hearing or before the next hearing date.

“Where an accused person waives his right to legal advice, the bill provides that the judge shall make an order for trial by judge alone only if satisfied that the accused person is competent to elect trial by judge alone without legal advice, has clearly and unequivocally elected to be tried by a judge alone, understands the effect of electing trial by judge alone, and files a Certificate of Waiver,” the bill says.

“Additionally, the Bill provides for the application of the Act to persons who are charged on indictment prior to its commencement, but whose trials have not begun at the commencement of the Act.”

“The Bill sets out the jurisdiction of the judge in a judge-alone trial and provides that judges sitting alone in such criminal trials shall be judges of the law and the facts and requires them to give reasons for their decisions.”

“The Bill also provides that all references to trial by jury in any written law include a reference to trial by judge alone where the accused elects that mode of trial.”

The Trail by Judge Alone Bill, 2024 would amend the Court of Appeal Act, the Supreme Court Act, the Magistrate’s Act, the Evidence Act, the Penal Code, the Criminal Procedure Code Act, the Capital Punishment Procedure Act, the Child Protection Act and the Firearms Act.

During the Eugene Dupuch Distinguish Lecture’s 25th anniversary meeting in March, Court of Appeal President Sir Micheal Barnett, Chief Justice Sir Ian Winder, former Chief Justice Sir Brian Moree, and former Chief Justice Sir Burton Hall highlighted issues with jury trials.

Sir Michael said he was involved in cases where his expected ruling was the opposite of the jury’s verdict. He said sometimes he pondered how jurors arrived at the conclusion they did.

Sir Burton called it wrong that jurors do not have to give reasons for their verdicts, noting that if a magistrate convicts someone, they must give a reason. He questioned how appellate bodies can reach conclusions if jurors give no reason for their verdicts.

Sir Ian noted that if jury trials were eliminated, the trial process would move much quicker, and the struggle to find people to serve would be erased.

Comments

K4C 2 months, 3 weeks ago

WOW the Gents in that pic sure could use some exercise for weight loss

ExposedU2C 2 months, 3 weeks ago

This will take our legal system to a whole new level of corruption of the most frightening kind. Lawyers and their clients lobbying for the "right" judge to hear their case will take on a whole new meaning. The one thing our corrupt political ruling class cannot stand more than anything else is our Constitution and the protective rights it gives all Bahamians.

These judges in their twilight years condescendingly think that they themselves are a superior choice to a jury trial by one's peers. They and other judges like them will naturally be prone to biase in determining the outcomes of cases where a defendant is "of their own kind" in our society in terms of upbringing, literacy, education and overall social standing and stature. What's proposed in this new legislative bill will greatly exacerbate that problem; in fact put it on steroids!

Bottomline: These tired old judges have allowed themselves to become lazy legal louts who really do think less educated persons at the lower end of our society's social spectrum are not capable of serving as a juror. Yet somehow they believe that very same type of person as a defendant would be capable of understanding the consequences of waiving their fundamental constitutional right to a trial by a jury of their peers.

Dumber than dumb AG Pinder and our corrupt PM Davis arehell-bent on taking away all of the most fundamental rights of the Bahamian people.

Only lazy judges unwilling and/or unable to communicate with and properly advise and instruct jurors have a reason to fear the dumbed-down D- educated jurors that the failed education and social policies of the political ruling class are responsible for creating in the first place. Yes, it often involves more work on the judge’s part to educate jurors on important aspects of the applicable law but that added effort helps to preserve some of the most important principles behind of our judicial system.

It seems Pinder and Davis no longer consider the many D- educated in our society to be their peers when it comes to jury trials. All right thinking Bahamians should be screaming for a better public education system and for their constitutional rights to be fully preserved and not in any way watered-down by the granting of unconstitutional choices that should never be allowed to exist.

All of these judges really need to take a serious look at themselves in the mirror because the next notch down this unconstitutional path is to do away with our judicial system altogether and have an authoritarian dictator decide who is innocent or guilty. There can be no two standards of justice in our constitutional democracy and lady justice must remain blind to social class. Justice Sir Burton Hall should know better and avoid keeping bad company.

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