Antigua and Barbuda mulls implementing judge alone trials

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By Elesha George

[email protected]

The Antigua and Barbuda Bar Association (ABBA) has been asked to review a draft Bill which proposes to change how criminal cases will be heard.

If it becomes law, the Bill would eliminate the need for a jury to deliberate on a case.

Attorney General Steadroy Benjamin has confirmed the existence of the draft Bill and is expected to divulge the details of what it is intended to accomplish at a later date.

President of the ABBA, Lenworth Johnson, told Observer that the association has received the Bill from the Attorney General’s Office and is expected to discuss the possibility of implementing it after careful review and consideration.

They must consider its efficacy and how it may affect a trial, among other things.

Observer understands the Bill is seen as a possible solution to allow the court to resume hearing cases that usually require jurors to sit in. These types of cases were suspended after the nationwide lockdown in March due to detection of Covid-19.

On Sunday, Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs of Barbados, Dale Marshall, also announced that such a process was being considered for that country.

He told Barbados Today that his ministry was awaiting further dialogue with members of the Bench and Bar on the possibility of implementing judge alone trials in Barbados.

A landmark trial took place in July 2020, when the Judicial College of Victoria in Australia became the first to hold judge-only trials as a way to continue hearing cases amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

They temporarily suspended the requirement for 12 jurors to sit and hear evidence and later put forward a verdict, to instead rely on the decision of the presiding judge.

However, the new type of trial isn’t automatic. The college has produced two resources to assist judges and practitioners in navigating this new process – the judge alone trial applications and judge alone trial proceedings.

The judge alone trial applications reviews the legislative amendments that regulate when a judge alone trial may be held, and highlights the relevant factors a court must consider in determining whether or not to grant a trial by judge alone.

Meanwhile, the judge alone trial proceedings examines the legislation on the running of a judge alone trial, and issues concerning adequacy of reasons, directions and warnings, and judicial practice in the conduct of a criminal judge alone trial.

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