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Parliament

Proposed amendment to remove lay assessor system

February 8, 2021 12:19 pm
Attorney General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum

Parliament will debate on proposed amendments to the Criminal Procedure Amendment Bill 2021 on Thursday.

The amendment seeks to remove the lay assessor system and have the judges make the decisions themselves.

Attorney General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum says this is an archaic provisions in the Act which is becoming problematic.

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Under the current provision if a group of assessors find someone guilty, the judge can over turn their decision and vice versa.

Sayed-Khaiyum says there are around 40 people who are now acting as professional assessors and they are well known to the registry clerks and lawyers.

He says given that there is only a small group of assessors, they are subject to economic, peer and political pressures.

“In some cases we have seen that there are very similar facts, very similar evidence, assessors find not guilty. In other cases they find them guilty. And similarly the judges, whether it is the mood of the day – they may go along with the assessor or maybe they don’t get influenced by the assessors, they go against the assessors.”

The Attorney General says we cannot have a criminal justice system where there are a lot of inconsistencies in the verdict by the assessors.

“We are seeing a lot of this in particular, some of the prejudice is coming through, sexual assault and rape cases etc and in particular for example now we getting sophisticated crimes, use of tech – the ability for the assessors to perhaps comprehend these matters and come up with a ruling is very very limited from that perspective.”

Fiji and Vanuatu are the only countries in the Pacific who have this system.

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