This was the response given by Senior Counsel Israel Khan yesterday when asked his views on a suggestion by Chief Justice Ivor Archie regarding the decriminalisation of possession of small amounts of marijuana and the abolishing of jury trials.
“I am calling on the Chief Justice to clarify his statement, because is he saying that it is okay for someone to smoke marijuana, but not to traffick it?” Khan asked.
He said simply because an offence was decriminalised, did not mean a person cannot be punished for committing the offence.
“Take, for example, a traffic offence. If you park your car on the wrong side of the road, that is not a criminal offence; but just because it is not a criminal offence does not mean you can’t be issued with a ticket or a summons to go to court.
On Monday Archie suggested, during the opening of the 2013/2014 law term, consideration should be given to decriminalising simple marijuana possession in order to reduce the burden placed upon magistrates in dealing with those matters. The reduction in those matters before the courts would, in turn, assist in making the criminal justice system more efficient and productive, he had said.
Archie pointed out that those people tried and convicted of simple non-violent offences like possession of small amounts of marijuana were more likely to turn to a life of crime, as in most cases they would not be able to secure jobs with a criminal conviction against their name.
Asked if he believed a person being ticketed for marijuana possession instead of being arrested and taken before a magistrate would save judicial time, Khan said, “No.”
“Again, look at the traffic court. Traffic offences are not criminal offences, but the traffic courts are still filled with matters. The Chief Justice has to clarify his statement,” he said.
On the issue of abolishing jury trials, Khan said he was in total disagreement with the suggestion.
“This notion of abolishing jury trials is total madness. Serving on a jury is the only opportunity simple, God-fearing citizens get to contribute to the criminal justice system,” said Khan.
He said there was no evidence to suggest interference by outside parties was influencing jurors to arrive at a decision in criminal matters that was not truly theirs, as stated by Archie.
The Chief Justice had said the abolishing of jury trials would also benefit the criminal justice system and valuable time would be saved, as in many cases, jurors were unable to understand the complexities of some of the laws, which would then have to be explained by the trial judge.
This, Archie said, was time-consuming and, in many cases, led to jurors returning with undecided verdicts simply because they did not understand those complexities.
In response, Khan said, if jurors were not returning verdicts in accordance with the evidence placed before them, it was not them to blame, but the trial judge.
“The judge has a duty to explain with clarity to the jurors, so it is not the jurors to blame for that, it is the trial judge. You know what is the first thing a person on trial is going to ask if there is no jury? What is the ethnicity of the judge?” he said.
Archie had also pointed out that in the Magistrates’ Court there were no juries and that all matters were dealt with only by the presiding magistrate. This system could also be adopted at the High Court, he said.
Khan stated: “Yes, that is true, but a magistrate is not going to sentence you to more than ten years in prison. A magistrate is not going to sentence you to hang.”