Wednesday, 16 May 2018
Criminal Justice (Corruption Offences) Bill 2017: Committee Stage
I had two amendments next to each other. This amendment, which I will quote to ensure there is no ambiguity, is to section 17, and reads as follows:
On page 17, between lines 3 and 4, to insert the following:
"(1) The District Court may try summarily a person or body corporate charged with a summary or indictable offence under this Act if—(a) the Court is of opinion that the facts proved or alleged constitute a minor offence fit to be tried summarily,
(b) the accused, on being informed by the Court of his, her or its right to be tried with a jury, does not object to being tried summarily, and
(c) the Director of Public Prosecutions consents to the accused being tried summarily for the offence.”.
The aim of this amendment is a simple one. It is to ensure that if an accused is prosecuted for an offence under this Act, the accused has the option to elect for a jury trial. As the Bill stands, if a person or body corporate is prosecuted for an offence under this Act on a summary basis, in other words, where the maximum custodial sentence is 14 months, that criminal trial would be heard before a District Court judge.
Many people may say the offences will have lesser penalties and that this is an efficient way for a crime to be prosecuted. It is already the case that for certain theft and fraud offences an accused can elect to have their trial heard by a jury even when prosecuted on a summary basis. I cannot see how offences prosecuted under a corruption Act are any less consequential than theft and fraud offences.
I recognise that the Minister wishes to have this Bill passed by June. I want to facilitate that but when it comes to a person's liberty and ensuring they receive a fair trial, we have to be extremely careful that in our collective desire to ensure no person is above the law, we do not lose sight of due process. I am interested in hearing the Minister's response on the amendment.