Antigua and Barbuda
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Attorney not in support of Government’s Plan to Make Judge-Only Trials Permanent

Attorney Criticizes Government’s Plan to Make Judge-Only Trials Permanent

Attorney-at-law Leon Symister has expressed his disapproval of the government’s move to make judge-only trials a permanent feature in the criminal justice system.

The Criminal Proceedings (Trial by Judge Alone) Act was initially implemented to address the backlog of cases caused by the pandemic’s restrictions on jury trials.

‘However, tomorrow, parliament will meet to amend the act, with the expectation that the new bill will make the measure permanent.

Symister argues that the decision to make judge-only trials mandatory for most cases indirectly erodes the democratic system and the common law’s facet of jury trials.

He believes that the government’s attempt to remove some rights in areas where the majority may not have concerns could set a dangerous precedent for further encroachment.

Nonetheless, he acknowledges that judge-only trials are not unusual in the justice system, citing civil cases as examples.

The original act was meant to remain in force only for the duration of the Covid pandemic, according to Section 1(2).

However, the government’s proposed amendments would make the measure permanent.

The implementation of judge-only trials has garnered mixed reactions, with Chief Justice of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, Her Worship Dame Janice Pereira, advocating for its use in high courts across the Caribbean region.

Pereira believes that it could help reduce the backlog of criminal cases and has no adverse effects on the trial process’s fairness.

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Advantages of judge-only trials include the transparency of judges having to explain their rationale for decisions and the protection of judges from intimidation by defendants, which can be a concern with jurors, particularly in small island communities.

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