Acting Director of Public Prosecution Sejilla McDowall is advocating for the introduction of judge-only trials in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

“I look forward to the day when the Criminal Procedure Rules will finally be introduced and we would have sufficiency hearings and that the disclosure that the prosecution is entitled to adhere to would similarly be an obligation of the defence,” McDowall said Friday at the closing of the assizes at the High Court in Kingstown.

“I look forward to the introduction of judge-only trials. As we have magistrates making decisions at that lower level, the Eastern Caribbean Court could equally come on board with other jurisdictions and take the weight off the juror when it comes to very complicated matters, to have judge-only trials,” she said.

McDowall added: “So I hope that, if not in 2020, soon, that we will take this course.”

Acting Director of Public Prosecutions, Sejilla McDowall. (iWN file photo)

According to the website “In Brief”, in criminal courts, the most serious offences are tried on indictment and are normally heard in front of a judge and jury.

The principle provides that when someone is on trial for a serious crime, he has the right to be tried by a jury of his peers and they are the sole determinants of the defendant’s guilt.

The judge’s role is to ensure the correctness of the procedure and decide on admissibility of evidence.

Therefore, in criminal trials, the judges are not allowed to assume the role of a fact-finder, except for limited circumstances such as in no case to answer applications.

In a judge-only trial, the judge becomes the sole determinant of both facts and law.

Meanwhile, McDowall also said she was looking toward, “in 2020 and beyond”, the abolition of preliminary inquiries.

A preliminary inquiry is a hearing held to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to require an accused person to stand trial, before a judge and a jury, for an alleged offence.

A magistrate presides over the preliminary inquiry and decides if the Crown has met the evidentiary threshold.

McDowall said that the abolition of preliminary inquiries will mean more work for the judge and prosecutors.

 “The entire court system would be affected but it would all be for the benefit of all,” she said.

She said that perhaps the criminal court should be assigned a master, who would assist where the changes she proposed have not come into place. 

7 replies on “DPP wants judge-only trial; abolition of PI”

  1. I disagree!
    It is a fact that there have been many incidences throughout history and in all places of the world that people are biased. It has occured that there was an incident in SVG where a judge was proven by a higher court to have decided a case on Political Bias. Although nothing is certain and there is probably always a bias, it is obvious that incidences exist that when many non-professional people can better tell the difference between right and wrong than one or a small group of people concentrating on technical aspects rather than guilt/innocence, right/wrong, or bias. The difficulty lies in when a jury is suitable or judges. To abolish juries would certainly be a mistake. What if it were possible for a certain politician to “stack the court” by appointing judges inclined to decide cases based on his/her “politics” rather than a balanced perspective? This has happened in US History under Roosevelt and continues to happen, such as under both Bush and Obama with district judges.
    I disagree with Jomo Thomas on so much but he has proven himself to be fair and well informed in areas such as this one. What is his opinion? It is possibly more important to get a “just” decision than a speedy one, but both are important. Some say:”Justice delayed is justice denied.”

  2. Rawlston Pompey says:

    DPP APPEAR TO PUT IT WRONG

    Not sure what had driven the contention and advocacy of the acting Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) for the elimination of ‘…Trial by Judge Only.’

    Judges are; have never been;, and shall never be ‘…judicially considered peers of accused persons.’

    The Jury in criminal trials are made ‘…Sole judges of Facts.’

    The adjudicators are made the ‘…Sole judges of Law.’

    They guide and direct the ‘…peers of the accused’ that shall only apply the facts to the law. They are left with the ‘…independent acceptance or rejection of the facts’ presented to them.

    When accused persons exercised the right to ‘…enter a Plea of Not Guilty,’ they shall go to trial by their peers (Jury).

    Do believe that the Judges, including Justice Brian Cottle have been acquitting themselves creditably with their ‘…judicial explanations and directions to the Jury on the law.’

    Unless misquoted, and this news portal seldom gets it wrong, the acting DPP may have inadvertently omitted or deliberately stated that ‘…Juries are the sole determinants of guilt’ [Paragraph 6].

    Factually and irrefutably, ‘…Juries are the determinants of Innocence or Guilt.’

    They, having heard the ‘…Facts’ (evidence) directly from witnesses, and supported by ‘…proper directions from the trial Judge on the law, make a determination.

    Thus, a Jury may ‘…Acquit or Convict.’

    Not sure,what is so wrong with this?’

    Agreed, ‘…Preliminary Inquiries’ could be eliminated and replaced with ‘…Documentary (Paper) Committals by Magistrates.

    The process is much more faster.

    But quick or early trial still remains a ‘…monumental problem’ in many OECS’ jurisdictions (Antigua and Barbuda is so plagued).

  3. Miss Mc dowall Before you start making suggestions about those things you should address the problem of you office l don’t think a lot of people have confidence in the independence of your office.For example any time some one try to bring a private case against the prime minister your office will intervene.That is one of the things should be abolition from your office..l like to see Yong people in position and being ambitious.But l also like it when it’s GOD fearing.

  4. This idea sounds like a Ralph Gonsalves sponsored idea. The removal of the PACE Act by the Gonsalves regime was a step backward and has allowed and encouraged the police to beat and torture accused into an admission of guilt.

    The removal of the Jury system will be a 500-year step backward. It will allow for a dictatorship to do at will what they want with political prisoners and detainees.

    “The entire court system would be affected, but it would all be for the benefit of all,” said the DPP. I don’t think so, and nor would any right-minded person think so.

    The whole judiciary is currently suspect by many Vincentian citizens; this crass political idea will bring further political control of the court to an unprecedented height.

    Wake up people there is only one way to improve law and order in SVG, and that is to invest in electing an NDP government as soon as possible. This suggested change is the kind of thing you would expect in Cuba or Venezuela; God forbid in SVG.

    I am beginning to believe more each day, that we have been sold to Cuba, and are now a satellite of theirs.

  5. The history of trial by jury in Saint Vincent was introduced within the British law system during the colonization time of Saint Vincent. This particular system became the norm almost throughout the world so as a king or head of state would not have final say in a person’s trial. Evidence of just how influential it became as many English and later British colonies, including the Thirteen Colonies which became the United States, adopted the English common law system in which trial by jury plays an important part. Many traditions, such as the number of members being twelve, originated in England.

    The Jury system was introduced into Britain when the Normans conquered Britain in 1066. The Norman Conquest, was the military conquest of England by William, duke of Normandy, primarily effected by his decisive victory at the Battle of Hastings (October 14, 1066) and resulting ultimately in profound political, administrative, and social changes in the British Isles.

    It is a fact that juries acquit proportionately more defendants than the magistrates do.
    Many critics of the jury system argue that this is a significant failing on the part of juries. Arising either from their inability to perform their function correctly, or from their sympathy with defendants, or both. But the argument for the jury system asks, is it is better to acquit a few who are guilty than convict a lot who are not.

    Could you imagine a Caribbean court with just a judge being influenced by the prime minister of the day [or the dictator, or dynastical tyrant] to convict someone because the PM did not approve or disliked the person, or was politically biased against the accused? That is precisely why the Jury System, despite not being perfect, is the safest for any citizen, anywhere.

    For SVG’s current acting DPP to suggest abandoning the Jury System quite merely shows she is not fit for the confirmed position of DPP. Or come to that any other significant or controlling body within SVG’s judiciary system.

    Venezuela which went from a rich democracy to a dictatorship with no jury system. The state of Venezuela has no death penalty since 1863. But they do have extra judicial killings at the behest of the current dictator. That is the danger for SVG.

    Cuba, went from a rich democracy to a dictatorship with no jury system. Cuba has a massive judiciary and penal system, yet often people are flung in prison for political reasons [I will not call them crimes] and tortured. That is the danger for SVG.

  6. It is already happening in other jurisdictions so she is on target with this new proposal, way to go miss DPP. Ag

  7. The problem in our Caribbean jurisdictions is resistance to change. When we do permit change we do so while trying to keep aspects of the whole regimes that do not complement the change. It is like placing new wine in old casks or old wine in new casks . We need not retain colonial systems nor adopt lock stock and barrel what they have. We are mature enough to observe existing challenges. We need to be bold enough to introduce workable solutions .
    The PI is outdated. So too is the use of Committals the PI in a different form. The same can be said of the jury trial.
    In the same way the police can charge and bring before a magistrate an offender accused of a summary or hybrid offence without reference to the office of the DPP’ the Office of the DPP can peruse a police file’ determine the sufficiency of evidence’ and proceed with the indictment.

    As regards jury trials, the public need to know what happens in jury rooms . There are cases where the evidence given is “ complicated “. Fraud and money laundering cases are examples. Do you expect justice from a jury in such cases, A person trained in the law should be the judge of face in those cases . In simple cases guilty persons are set free because they do not know the law surrounding the offence and their judgement is based on a belief on not fact.
    So if we decide to forgo PI’s and Jury trials we must not throw out the baby with the bath water . The necessary adjustments need to be made to ensure justice is done. The parties will be represented by attorneys and should recognize biased and perverse decisions . Appeals an Reviews followed by serious sanctions should follow biased decisions.

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