When Justice Minister Herbert Volney kicked off debate on the Administration of Justice (Indictable Proceedings) Bill on November 18, 2011, he said it would transform the criminal justice system, expediting the judicial process in serious criminal matters. The bill, which required a three-fifths majority, repealed and replaced the Indictable Offences (Preliminary Enquiry) Act, Chap 12:01 and introduced a system of pre-trial proceedings in serious criminal matters instead of preliminary enquiries. One part of the legislation, including the contentious Clause 34, which provides for the discharge of the accused on the ground of delay, was proclaimed on August 31. The remaining sections will be proclaimed on January 2, 2013.
The legislation provides for pre-trial proceedings where witness statements would be admitted and considered by a Master of the High Court. The master will conduct an initial hearing on preliminary issues relating to identification of the accused, bail and legal representation for the accused. The master will then conduct a sufficiency hearing at which witness statements, documentary evidence and no-case submissions will be reviewed to determine whether the accused should be put on trial. Volney, commenting on Clause 34, told the Lower House: “Mr Speaker, very often a lot of judicial time is spent hearing applications for staying indictments, for quashing indictments on the ground of delay; this is a matter of grave judicial concern that I can speak of from my previous incarnation as a judge and I can say that many times cases have had to be stayed on this ground of delay.” He also said: “This bill will turn the tide of the criminal justice process, introduce robust case-management principles and sanctions for non-compliance, afford justice to persons who have had their rights stifled by an over-burdened system and invest greater resources in the agencies that would drive this change.”
Volney said the bill represented the collective will of the Judiciary, led by the Chief Justice, as well as the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Criminal Bar Association, the Law Association, the police, prisons and the Forensic Science Centre. The bill enjoyed swift passage through the House of Representatives and the Senate. In the Lower House, it took just a few hours for it to go from second reading to committee stage, then third reading and passage. Speaking in that debate were Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley, Opposition Whip Marlene McDonald, Diego Martin North/East MP Colm Imbert and Legal Affairs Minister Prakash Ramadhar. All 34 MPs present in the Parliament chamber that day voted in support of the legislation. There were no abstentions. In the Senate, debate started on November 22. In addition to Volney, there were contributions to that debate, which took place over two sittings, from Senators Fitzgerald Hinds, Dr Victor Wheeler, David Abdulah, Faris Al-Rawi, Elton Prescott, Attorney General Anand Ramlogan, Energy Minister Kevin Ramnarine, then National Security Minister John Sandy, Shamfa Cudjoe and Senate Opposition Leader Pennelope Beckles. The bill was passed unanimously, with 29 senators voting, and was sent to the President for assent on December 16, 2011.