Understanding the Law
October 7, 2011
Some general comments on criminal offences

In a previous article, mention was made of the major criminal offences. These include the less serious summary conviction offences that are dealt with by the magistrates’ court, hybrid offences dealt with by either the magistrates’ court or the High court and indictable offences dealt with by the High Court.{{more}} In this article, I will make general comments on matters pertaining to criminal offences.

If you are summoned to appear in the High Court for committing a criminal offence, the charge will be on indictment.

What is an indictment?

An indictment is a legal document prepared by the Director of Public Prosecutions in which charges are formally laid against a person who has committed an indictable offence, for example murder or rape. If someone attacks a person and damages his car, he could be charged for criminal damage to the car and for wounding the person in the same indictment. The court clerk reads the indictment at the arraignment and again at the beginning of the trial, in case the accused wants to change his plea. The accused is required to plead guilty or not guilty to the charges.

Appearance in Court

A person who has committed a criminal offence can appear in court with or without counsel. This is a decision that must be made by the accused. If he considers himself capable of handling himself in court, then he could appear unrepresented. However, some cases may require a lawyer’s expertise, especially on some technical issues. For example, he may need a lawyer to make a no case submission. Currently, there is no formal arrangement for legal aid, but there is a great deal of discussion on it in the Caribbean, and I would think that it would soon come on stream in SVG. Legal aid, as I know it, should be provided for the poor.

For a murder case (homicide), an accused must have legal representation, because it is a serious crime and the State cannot take a life without a fair trial. If the accused cannot retain a lawyer, then the law requires one to be provided. A request to the court through the Registrar could provide the necessary representation. The Government pays the fees.

Criminal liability

A person who has committed a crime cannot plead ignorance of the law after the crime is committed. It is presumed that everyone knows the law. A person of eight years or over is criminally liable for an act or omission.

Attempting to commit an offence

If someone has the intent to commit a crime and does more than is preparatory to committing the crime, then that person is guilty of an attempt. An attempted murder will result in a punishment of life imprisonment. An attempt is as serious as the completed act. With a few exceptions, for other criminal offences, whether summary or indictable, the penalty is the same as that for the offence itself. If a male attempts to rape a female, and penetration does not occur, then the offence is attempted rape and the penalty is the same as the completed offence.

Ada Johnson is a solicitor and barrister-at-law.
E-mail address is: [email protected]