By Leon Norville
The parliamentary select committee chosen to examine two proposed pieces of legislation – which would pave the way for judge-alone trials, along with the regulation of hemp – met last Thursday to discuss the Bills.
Following discussions with the Antigua and Barbuda Bar Association, the committee affirmed that if the judge-alone Bill becomes law, it will have a sunset clause and be valid for two years.
Attorney General and committee chair Steadroy Benjamin thanked those involved in drafting the Bill and said it would be the first of its kind in the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS).
“It will be used as an example for the other OECS territories to follow,” Benjamin said.
During his presentation, the Attorney General said that Covid-19 safety protocols were among the reasons for the legislation being proposed.
“We’ve had a backlog of cases, and matters have not really gone forward as they ought to. Jurors for example are concerned that they are spending long hours together in closed quarters and they are not comfortable with the environment in which they work,” he explained.
The committee also received concerns from the Bar Association regarding the proposed legislation. Association President Lenworth Johnson said he was worried that the terminology “until the pandemic is over” could be subject to much dispute and argument. He recommended that the Bill be reevaluated at least six to five months before the two year-period is complete.
The judge-alone Bill had been up for discussion in a previous parliamentary sitting but was deferred to last week after Opposition Leader Jamale Pringle said he had not received the most recent version of the Bill in time and needed additional time to review it. However, Pringle and Barbuda MP Trevor Walker were unable to attend last week’s proceedings much to the disappointment of the Attorney General.
Following the consultations on the judge-alone Bill, discussions regarding the Hemp Bill were set to take place but did not happen. Hemp advisor Margaret MacKenzie from the United States, who was to give recommendations on the Bill, said she had not been given adequate time to review it.
She explained to the committee members present that her recommendations for presentation were based on the outdated version of the Bill.
The Attorney General agreed that the proceedings concerning the Hemp Bill would continue this week allowing MacKenzie time to review the updated Bill and revise her recommendations.
The Bill is now up for discussion on Thursday.