President of the Criminal Bar Association (CBA) Israel Khan, SC, has raised concerns over the potential impact of the Miscellaneous Provisions (Trial by Judge Alone) Bill 2023, which was debated in the Senate yesterday.
He is now calling on behalf of his association, for legislation seeking to make judge-alone trials the default for criminal cases, to not be debated by Parliament before consultations with it and other criminal justice stakeholders.
In a press release, Khan said: “The CBA wishes to express its disquiet at what is quite clearly another piecemeal erosion of fair trial protections guaranteed to citizens accused of criminal conduct.”
Judge-alone trials were introduced with the proclamation of the Miscellaneous Provisions (Trial by Judge Alone) Act in February 2019.
Under the original legislation, trials by judge and jury remained the standard for persons accused of indictable offences, with them having the option to select a judge-alone trial.
Under the new proposed legislation, judge-alone trials would become the default, with accused persons having the option to request a jury trial.
The bill seeks to reduce the number of jurors required for a criminal trial, with nine jurors instead of 12 being able to decide on the guilt or innocence of a person charged with murder or treason, who is facing the mandatory death penalty upon conviction.
In the release, Khan said: “Trial by jury ensures that a citizen is tried by a jury of his peers according to the prevailing moral values of ordinary men and women. As opposed to being judged by the unrealistic, self-serving and oft times hypocritical “ideals” of the ruling class,” Khan said.
He also claimed that the introduction of lay assessors was a further incursion into the fairness of trial by a jury of one’s peers.
“The CBA notes the unfairness inherent with the proposed introduction of lay assessors as well as its capacity to cause further delay to an already overburdened criminal justice system,” he said.
He suggested that the criminal justice system would benefit from other types of reform.
“It is the hope of the CBA that there would be a postponement of the Bill to allow for consultation, with the hope that legislation of a more useful nature can be brought to Parliament, legislation which deals with crime prevention, detection and speedy justice as opposed to a measure such as the 2023 Bill which serves to slowly erode the constitutional rights of citizens,” he said.