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Legal changes coming: Legislation introduced to speed up hearings, introduce more judge-only trials, address defamation and protect witnesses

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Posted: Tuesday, February 8, 2022. 3:37 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: Minister of Education, Culture, Science, and Technology Francis Fonseca introduced a quartet of bills concerning the legal system and structure during Friday’s meeting of the House of Representatives.

The Indictable Procedure Act is to be amended to expand the list of criminal offenses to be tried without a jury; virtual trials; and allow the addition of crimes to an indictment among other matters.

Fonseca explained that the focus is on efficiency, and in the case of removing sexual offences from the province of a jury, corrected potential bias and discrimination that would lead to an unfair verdict.

Speaking for the Attorney General’s Ministry, Fonseca said of the Defamation Bill, 2022, that it follows the United Kingdom’s similar reforms in 2013, and closer to home those of Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, to codify common-law defences to defamation, including justification (truth), qualified privilege, and fair comment (honest opinion).

In this, he said, it speaks to the balance of protection of the reputation of an individual against the universal right to freedom of speech and expression.

In addition, the new Act replaces and repeals an “outdated” law that offers a limited view of what constitutes libel, slander and defamation and how it is broadcasted and defended.

The Inferior Courts (Amendment) Bill, 2022, provides for hearings or trials before the court to be conducted virtually.

Minister of Home Affairs Kareem Musa introduced the Protection of Witnesses Bill, 2022, which provides for the protection of witnesses in criminal proceedings, by enhancing the ability of a witness to give testimony in judicial proceedings and to cooperate with law enforcement authorities; and to provide for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.

The bill was first introduced in 2018 and passed both Houses, but it lapsed after an expert intervened, seeking to provide input. The reworked version of the Bill has been examined and approved by the Director of Public Prosecutions, Supreme Court justices, and a panel of other experts which resulted in a few amendments

All of these bills are before the Constitution and Foreign Affairs Committee of the House for further examination, consideration, and report.

 

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