New Juvenile Justice Bill: Juveniles can now be charged with adults for certain crimes
…protections in place for juveniles will remain intact – Govt
The National Assembly has passed amendments to the Juvenile Justice Act, which will go towards reducing the backlog of cases and also allow the courts to now charge juveniles alongside adults.
Debates were concluded and amendments passed to the Act on Tuesday. According to Home Affairs Minister Robeson Benn, who presented the Bill, the amendments brought are intended to make the courts’ work more efficient.
“At the current time, we have 17 juveniles in custody – 15 males and two females. It represents 0.8 per cent of the total number of persons incarcerated. The particular consideration that we have and the challenge that we have and I must say, there has been an increase of about 70 per cent in persons who are incarcerated at the moment, in remand or sentenced, there is the challenge of sloth.
“Perhaps in the courts, there are issues of refusal to take cases. And sometimes we know that we are happy with respect to decisions made in the court,” Minister Benn said in his presentation to the National Assembly.
The A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) Opposition was steadfast against the amendments, arguing that it would infringe on the rights of juveniles. Opposition Member of Parliament (MP) Vincent Henry was of the view that the amendments would negatively impact juveniles.
“To try juveniles together with adults will certainly have some negative impacts on their emotional, physical and behavioural well-being. Further, according to the HAQ Centre for Child Rights document, the subject of juvenile justice in different countries, age of criminal responsibility and treatment of juvenile offenders, when a child or young person faces charges for murder or manslaughter, the charge is laid and the preliminary hearing held in youth court,” he said.
Not being tried as adults
Meanwhile, Public Service Minister Sonia Parag emphasised that the amendments did not mean children would be tried as adults. According to her, “from the onset, a juvenile is not being tried as an adult. They’re being tried as a juvenile, together with an adult,” Parag said.
Culture, Youth, and Sport Minister Charles Ramson Jr also explained that the Government was committed to maintaining a strong “deterrence” against serious crimes that fall under indictable charges, including murder, treason, rape, and manslaughter.
“The amendment is necessary for us to have in the proper administration of justice, not new to the many parts of the world, and it is based on the representations that have been received, having introduced a new form of administration of justice relating to juveniles,” Ramson Jr highlighted.
“Those…elements are the elements that affect deterrence to which every government…among their top priorities, is to protect the society. That has always been a high priority,” he further explained.
According to the amendments, if a juvenile has been accused of committing an indictable offence with an adult and “the offence cannot be disposed of summarily, the juvenile may be charged jointly with the adult”,
It was explained by the explanatory memorandum of the bill that Section 3 (bi) of the principal Act, which restricts juveniles from appearing before the courts with an adult, will now be offered an exception by the new bill.
“The current criminal justice system often results in witnesses testifying twice, leading to a significant increase in judicial time and expense,” the explanatory memorandum states.