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Defence lawyers back plan to cut sentences for guilty pleas

Novel approach: Jerome Lynch, QC (File photograph)

Two top lawyers have backed a move to offer increased sentencing discounts to defendants who plead guilty to offences.

Justice Shade Subair Williams announced the initiative on Tuesday after consultation with the Department of Public Prosecutions and other members of the legal profession.

The move, which is temporary, was made to help clear a “backlog” of cases in the Supreme Court. The policy will not apply to the most serious indictable offences.

The Opposition One Bermuda Alliance described the initiative as “interesting” but needing to be handled with care.

Scott Pearman, the OBA’s legal affairs spokesman, said there was a risk that the discount might convert what should be a prison sentence into a non-custodial sentence.

But defence attorney Jerome Lynch, QC said he backed the measure because it could free up court time.

Mr Lynch, who has previously criticised the time it takes for cases to come to court, said: “I support these measures as they may help to relieve the backlog.

“I disagree with Mr Pearman in the paper today saying if they deserve jail they should get it — a suspended sentence of imprisonment is a jail sentence.

“If a sentence is reduced to below the threshold for suspended sentences, the court should consider whether it can be suspended and if that encourages a plea of guilty at an early stage rather than having to await trial which may be two years hence, that is a good thing.

“Mr Pearman is quoted as saying justice must not only be done, justice must be seen to be done. It is an even greater maxim of the courts and enshrined in our Constitution, that justice delayed is justice denied, both for the defendant and the victim.

“I commend the forward and novel approach taken by the judiciary here to do something to fix the backlog as a result of the pandemic rather than shrugging their collective judicial shoulders and doing nothing as has happened in some jurisdictions.”

Lawyer Mark Pettingill, a former Attorney-General in the OBA government, also supported the measure.

Mr Pettingill said: “The fact of the matter is that there are valid concerns over the backlog of cases attributable to Covid and the consideration of ‘justice delayed is justice denied’ is paramount.

“This is not a government decision, to be clear, but a court administration decision, which in my assessment is both necessary and effective for solving the problem.

“The justice system must be about balance and fairness and in the circumstances this seems to be the most sensible and practical solution.

“People should only plead guilty if in fact they are and I have no doubt that defendants will be given good advice by various counsel at the criminal bar as to their rights and what is in their best interest.“

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Published April 29, 2022 at 7:38 am (Updated April 29, 2022 at 7:38 am)

Defence lawyers back plan to cut sentences for guilty pleas

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