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Basseterre, St. Kitts – During his recent appearance on the well-known radio and television show, InFocus, on November 21, 2023, the Honourable Garth Wilkin, Attorney General (AG), emphasized the Government’s dedication to reforming the criminal justice system. This overhaul aims to enhance the efficiency of handling criminal cases, with the goal of delivering faster justice for the citizens and residents of St. Kitts and Nevis.
Under the current prosecutorial system in St. Kitts and Nevis – adopted from the system used in the United Kingdom – victims and accused often face extensive waiting times before their cases are called and justice can be dispensed. As such, Minister Wilkin said his office has embarked on a comprehensive plan to address this matter by introducing an efficient justice system that meets the needs of both victims and accused individuals.
The attorney-general said that a key consideration in the reform efforts is the proposal to reduce the number of jurors in criminal trials. This change is aimed at streamlining the jury paneling process, making it more efficient and swift.
Attorney-General Wilkin said St. Kitts and Nevis is also considering the introduction of judge-only trials for certain offences, which he said, has already been successfully introduced in the neighbouring island of Antigua and Barbuda.
“When you involve a jury it adds a lot of extra time, and expense, to the matter. So there are some matters where we believe that there are enough statistics to show that justice is served even if a judge alone [hears the case],” said AG Wilkin.
Minister Wilkin highlighted that many of the criminal laws in the Federation, having been established in the colonial era, do not adequately address the range of crimes that could occur in contemporary St. Kitts and Nevis. In light of this, the Honourable Attorney General expressed the intention to revise and update these laws to better align with the dynamics of a modern society.
“For example, our Larceny Act is a 19th century act so it does not speak to certain types of modern theft that can occur by digital means and otherwise,” the minister said. “So when you tidy up those things then you have an easier task as a prosecutor, and the defendant has an easier task also in terms of knowing what they are actually charged with,” Attorney-General Wilkin said.
Adlai Smith, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) for St. Kitts and Nevis, concurs with the Attorney General on the urgent need for reforms in the criminal justice system, specifically addressing what he terms as ‘delays’ in justice delivery.
DPP Smith plans to advocate for the use of pre-recorded video evidence and cross-examinations, especially in cases involving vulnerable witnesses. A person is considered a vulnerable witness if they experience fear or distress about testifying; have mental or learning disabilities; fall below a certain age limit; or are victims of domestic abuse, sexual crimes, stalking, human trafficking, or could be harmed by giving evidence.
“So I think once we put that particular system in place I think we can do away with the problem of witnesses leaving the country and being unavailable because sometimes once they leave it’s hard to track them down,” said the Director of Public Prosecutions.
Attorney-General Wilkin said it is his goal to have these comprehensive reforms to the criminal justice system, which also includes potentially implementing plea deal legislation, streamlined by July 2024.
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