News & Events

As a Public Defender it often proves to be a challenge to manage our client’s expectations, especially those who are in custody awaiting trial. Let’s discuss the general process of getting to trial in a criminal matter. 
I have been charged, what happens next?
Once a person is charged, it is the duty of the police to ensure that the accused person is brought before the court as soon as it is practicable. 
All criminal matters currently begin its life in the Magistrates/District Court. The area where the crime occurred would determine which district court initially hears the matter. The type of charge can be summary, indictable or either way matters.
The 1st hearing.
At the first hearing, the Magistrate or Judicial Officer reads the charge and its particulars to the accused person. If the matter is a summary matter, the accused person is invited to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. However, if the matter is an indictable one, the charge would be read as it is stated in the information and the accused would not be called upon to enter a plea. 
Summary Offences
If the accused person pleads guilty, the summary of evidence is read by the prosecutor, and the accused person is invited to accept. Thereafter, a plea in mitigation is offered by the defence which the court will take into account when sentencing. On the other hand, if the accused person pleads not guilty, an application for bail can be made before the court. If the person was previously granted bail at the police station by a Justice of the Peace, then the court is invited to regularize the bail, whereby the Judicial Officer can allow the bail to continue or amend accordingly. 
Either way or Indictable Offences
Where the charge is either way, the prosecutor is invited to make a recommendation as to whether the State wishes to proceed summarily or indictably. The accused can then elect whether to have the matter tried in the Magistrates/District Court or the High Court.  The accused person can also apply for bail as outlined above. If the Accused elects High Court trial, the matter is adjourned for disclosure for the purpose of conducting a preliminary inquiry. This is the same process for indictable matters.
The Preliminary Inquiry (PI)
At the PI, the prosecution is simply required to show that the accused has a case to answer to the Judicial Officer. Once there is sufficient evidence, the matter is transferred to a High Court for trial. Noteworthy, the Administration of Justice (Indictable Proceedings) Amendment Act, 2023 was assented to on July 11th, 2023 and once proclaimed, it will remove the process of preliminary inquiries and Masters of the High Court will now conduct a sufficiency hearing to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to establish a prima facie case of any indictable offence on an indictment.
Case Management
Active case management is critical in the trial process. With the advent of the Criminal Procedure Rules 2016, Judicial Officers are required to actively manage cases to ensure that they are being dealt with efficiently and expeditiously. At each hearing the matter should be advanced. During this process, the prosecution is required to provide disclosure to the defence with all material that is relevant to the case. The parties are required to comply with the court’s directions in accordance with the Rules. This can take a lengthy period of time. Sometimes witnesses are unavailable to provide statements or the exhibits are at the Forensics Sciences Centre awaiting to be tested. Often times the State is not ready to proceed and matters are being adjourned. 
Inching towards the trial!
For summary matters, once both sides are ready for trial, a date is set, and evidence is heard. Where a PI is conducted, and the accused is committed to stand trial at the High Court, a committal bundle is then sent to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) who, upon review of the evidence files an indictment. The DPP is the only person who can file an indictment and unfortunately, the process of completing the committal bundle and filing of the indictment takes on average 3-4 years. Once the indictment is filed, the matter is listed before a Judge/Master. The matter is then case managed by the Master before being transferred to the judge’s list for the next available trial date. Currently there are 13 criminal judges to manage the thousands of criminal matters so the wait is long.
While the Constitution provides a right to a fair trial, it does not provide a right to a speedy trial or one within a reasonable time. It is critical that each stakeholder involved, acts expeditiously to advance the matters, utilising the alternative options available (plea-bargaining or Maximum Sentence Indications) where the evidence allows for it.  
Submitted by:
Adaphia Trancoso-Ribeiro 
PDII Junior of the Public Defenders’ Department
Legal Aid and Advisory Authority.
23 Stanmore Avenue, Port-of-Spain 
Contact: 638-5222
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Published in The Trinidad Guardian News Paper on Friday 2nd September, 2023