Legal Eagle : What to expect on your first day before the criminal court

January 30, 2017

Every year, thousands of Jamaicans are arrested, charged and brought to court. Most of these cases would have commenced in the parish courts.

Depending on the crime and many other important factors, the accused is likely to be interviewed by the police in what is called 'Question and Answer' session and may also be brought on an identification parade.

However, once charged, the accused will be brought before the court.

So what can an accused expect on the first two or three appearances in court?

On the first day before the court, if in custody, the accused will be taken to the holding area of the court to await the case being called up in court.

The accused's name is then called and he/she enters the dock.

In court, the judge is likely to make enquires about the allegations, which is usually outlined by the clerk of court. The judge thereafter makes enquires about the readiness of the case to proceed.

An accused in custody is likely to be concerned about bail and, as such, the judge is likely to direct his mind to the liberty of the accused and may even entertain an application from the accused person's lawyer, if they have one.

If the accused was granted station bail before coming to court or was summoned after the process in court, the judge is likely to extend the bail or bound the accused over to return.

If the file is not complete, the judge is likely to appoint a date for the file to be completed and for the accused or his/her lawyer to be served with copies of the statements.

If the case can be tried in the parish court, at the completion of the file, the formal process of arraignment will commence. This is a three-stage process.

First, the accused will be called to the bar. While at the bar, the clerk of court will read the indictment to him/her. Thereafter, the clerk of court will ask whether the accused is guilty or not guilty.

While at the bar, the accused must not be handcuffed, shackled or restrained unless there is a danger of the accused escaping.

Upon being arraigned, if the accused pleads guilty to the charge, the judge must be satisfied that the said accused understands the nature of the charge before the plea of guilt is accepted.

Should the plea be accepted, the court is likely to set a date for sentencing and ask for a social enquiry report and an antecedent report.

If the case involves a serious indictable offence, it is likely to fall under the Committal Proceedings Act and, as such, will be treated in accordance with the provisions of that Act, which, essentially, provides a timetable for the accused to be committed to stand trial in the Circuit Court.

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