Judges get more powers

Can now impose sentences without adhering to minimum penalty

JAMAICA – JUDGES and resident magistrates now have discretionary powers to impose sentences without adhering to the prescribed minimum penalty set out in the Criminal Justice (Plea Negotiations and Agreements) Act of 2005 in cases where an accused has entered a guilty plea.

This was made possible by an amendment to Section 15 of the Act by the Senate yesterday afternoon.

The amendment makes it clear that where an offence in relation to which an accused has pleaded guilty is punishable by a prescribed minimum penalty, the judge or resident magistrate may impose sentence without regard to the prescribed minimum penalty.

The Bill effecting the amendment was piloted by Minister of Justice and Attorney General Senator Dorothy Lightbourne.

Senator Marlene Malahoo-Forte rose in support of Lightbourne, saying that returning discretionary powers to judges and resident magistrates was a step in the right direction.

The amendment was later welcomed by defence lawyers, some saying that judges are the ones assessing the evidence and circumstances before them so they deserve to have such discretionary powers.

“I think that any effort to give judges this latitude is a welcomed move,” attorney Linton Walters told the Observer.

Added George Soutar, president of the Advocates Association of Jamaica: “It’s a good thing because it now gives judges the option of going below the minimum prescribed penalty.”

Attorney Christopher Townsend said that sentences will now fit offences for which offenders plead guilty.

“Now that the judges have been unshackled, we anticipate a more balanced dispensation of justice, which is in keeping with the theory where the punishment will now fit the crime and the particular circumstance under which the crime was committed,” Townsend said.

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