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Senate Begins Debate on Evidence Bill

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Debate on the Evidence (Amendment) Bill, which seeks to introduce significant reforms in the justice system, began in the Senate, on December 4.

Opening the debate, Minister of Justice, Senator the Hon. Mark Golding, noted that the amendments address several issues, including the admission into evidence of documents of facts by agreement between the Defence and Prosecution.

He also informed that the Bill provides for a simpler procedure for the admissibility of expert reports, where the evidence of the expert is not in dispute.

The Bill further facilitates a modernized simpler procedure for the admissibility of computer generated evidence.

It also provides for the ability of an accused person who is in custody to designate an attorney-at-law to appear in court on his or her behalf at pre-trial administrative hearings.

“This Bill does not purport to be a comprehensive overhaul of Jamaica’s law of evidence. The time has, indeed, come for a full review leading to such an overhaul, as many aspects of our law of evidence are now outdated and in need of reform,” Senator Golding said.

He added that a working group will be appointed to undertake such a review in 2015.

“Nevertheless, this Bill does seek to address some burning issues that key justice system stakeholders have identified as contributing to the excessive delays that are a feature of our court processes,” Senator Golding said.

The Minister also informed that the Bill includes provisions that will facilitate speedy disposition of cases and reduce the case backlog in our courts.

“One very practical and much needed provision will permit the admission into evidence of undisputed documents and agreed facts, by way of agreement, between the parties in any criminal or civil proceedings,” he noted.

The other significant reform provided by the Bill is the treatment of the evidence of children under the age of 14 years.

“The Bill amends the law in relation to the competency of these child witnesses by providing that a child is competent to give evidence if it appears to the court that the child is a person who possesses sufficient intelligence to justify the reception of the evidence and that the child understands the duty of speaking the truth. That is the formulation that is used in many jurisdictions,” he said.

Senator Golding explained that in determining that a child is competent to give evidence, the court may consider the evidence of any person who the court considers qualified to assess the child for this purpose.

He added that any questioning of the child by the court to determine the child’s competence to give evidence must be done in the presence of the parties to the proceedings and any social worker accompanying the child or any other person appointed by the child for this purpose.

“(This) legislation is a matter of modernization and moving with the times. We cannot afford to keep our justice system where it is, we need to bring it forward, and we need to improve it. Our citizens demand it and our economy demands an efficient system,” Senator Golding said.

Debate on the Bill was suspended until a date to be determined.

By Latonya Linton

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