Committal Proceedings

AuthorGeorge Belnavis
ProfessionAttorney-at-law of over 30 years practice at both the Public and Private Bar and is currently Senior Tutor II at the Norman Manley Law School, Kingston, where he has taught for nearly 20 years
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Committal Proceedings
Most trials on indictment are preceded by preliminary proceedings in a
Magistrate’s Court. These proceedings must not be confused with the trial
itself. The accused is not asked whether he pleads guilty or not guilty, nor
is the Magistrate concerned with whether they could convict or acquit.1
Historically, the function of committal proceedings has been to decide
whether the evidence before the Examining Magistrate raises a prima facie
case that the accused has committed an indictable offence. If so, the
Examining Magistrate commits the accused to the Assizes to be tried for
that offence. If not, the accused is discharged.2
In the Commonwealth Caribbean there are two types of committal
proceedings. On the one hand the Examining Magistrate considers all of
the evidence and decides at the end of it all whether the accused person
should be committed to stand trial at the Assizes. On the other hand,
where all of the evidence against the accused consists of written statements,
then the Magistrate can commit the accused person to stand trial without
considering the evidence against him.
Jurisdiction of the Magistrates
In Antigua & Barbuda every Magistrate has jurisdiction ‘to investigate
all charges which he is not empowered to try summarily and to dismiss the
accused or to commit him for trial before the High Court’.3 The Bahamas
confers jurisdiction to ‘investigate all charges of indictable offences in
accordance with the provision of the Criminal Procedure Code Act.4
Magistrates’ jurisdiction in Barbados to try accused persons on alleged
summary offences is geographically limited to offences committed within
the district to which the Magistrate is assigned. His jurisdiction to conduct
committal proceedings is subject to no such restrictions. Magistrates in
Barbados also have jurisdiction to act as examining justices upon an accused
Committal Proceedings
68 / Criminal Practice and Procedure
appearing before them whether or not the offence was committed within
the district or districts to which they are assigned.5
In Belize section 5(2)(b) of the Inferior Courts Act CAP. 74 states:
…the summary jurisdiction court of each judicial district shall have full
jurisdiction and power therein –
(a) …
(b) to receive and inquire into all charges of indictable offences and
to make any orders in respect thereof under the Indictable
Procedure Act.
In Jamaica the provisions are contained in the Judicature (Resident
Magistrates) Act which states:
Every Magistrate shall, within his Parish or Parishes, take all necessary
and requisite preliminary examinations and depositions on charges or
informations for indictable offences triable in the Circuit Court.6
The provisions in Montserrat are similar to those in Antigua & Barbuda.
There the Magistrates Court has jurisdiction ‘to investigate all charges
which are not triable summarily, of which, under section 75 of the Criminal
Procedure Code, the Magistrate considers ought to be tried by the High
Court, and to dismiss the accused or to commit him for trial before the
High Court’.7
The rules in St Christopher & Nevis are also similar to those in Antigua
& Barbuda, and Montserrat. The Magistrate’s Code of Procedure Act
provides Magistrates with ‘…jurisdiction…to investigate all charges which
he is not empowered to try summarily and to dismiss the accused or to
commit him for trial before the Circuit Court’.8
In Saint Lucia, section 779 of the Criminal Code 2004, covers the question
of jurisdiction. A Magistrate who has reason to believe –
(a) that an indictable offence has been committed within the limits of
his or her jurisdiction for which the offender might according to the
law for the time being in force, be arrested without warrant; or (b)
that there is reasonable ground for inquiring whether such indictable
offence has been committed within those limits or (c) that there are
reasonable grounds for inquiring by whom such suspected offence
has been committed. The Code goes on to set out the Districts in
which preliminary inquiries are to be held. The latter includes the
issue of boundaries and that of doubts or dispute as to which
Magisterial District the inquiry should be held.9
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Committal Proceedings
The provisions in Trinidad & Tobago are quite straightforward:
Any Magistrate may issue a summons or warrant under this Act to
compel the appearance before him, for the preliminary examination,
of any person accused of having committed in any place, whether within
or outside of Trinidad and Tobago any indictable offence triable,
according to the law for the time being in force, in Trinidad and Tobago.10
Presence of the Accused and the Public
The general rule is that the committal proceedings should be held in the
presence of the accused. This point was decided in R v Phillips and Quayle
[1939] 1 K.B. 63 in which the Court held that where evidence is taken in
the absence of the accused, the committal proceedings will be invalid.
In Antigua & Barbuda the evidence of every witness must be given in
the presence of the accused and he or his counsel is entitled to cross-examine
such witnesses upon all facts relevant to the charge.11 The Bahamian Criminal
Procedure Code provides that the Magistrate must, in the presence of the
accused, take down in writing, the statement on oath of witnesses called in
support of the prosecution.12
The Magistrates’ Courts Act 1996 governs the situation in Barbados. It
is mandatory that the evidence given before an Examining Magistrate is
given in the presence of the accused and the defense shall be at liberty to
put questions to any witness at the enquiry.13 Provision is however made
for the Examining Magistrate to take evidence in the absence of the accused
(a) he considers that by reason of his disorderly conduct before him it is
not practical for the evidence to be given in his presence, or
(b) the accused cannot be present for reasons of health, but is represented
by an Attorney-at-Law and has consented in writing to the evidence
being given in his absence.14
The provisions in Belize are the same as those in Barbados. The Indictable
Procedure Act provides that preliminary enquiries should be held in the
presence of the accused unless:
(a) the accused so conducts himself as to render the continuance of the
procedure in his presence impracticable and the Magistrate has
ordered him removed, or
(b) the accused is unable to be present for reasons of health but is

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