Bell v Director of Public Prosecutions of Jamaica: PC 1985

The appellant had been sentenced to life for firearms offences. After a successfully appeal, a retrial was ordered. More than two years had passed, after a previous attempt failed for absent witnesses.
Held: Referred to the US decision in Barker and Wingo (1972) 407 US 514, invoking the sixth amendment – ‘In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury….’) which identified four factors in assessing whether a defendant had been deprived of his constitutional rights: (1) the length of delay; (2) the reasons given by the prosecution to justify the delay; (3) the responsibility of the accused for asserting his rights; and (4) prejudice to the accused. ‘Their Lordships acknowledge the relevance and importance of the four factors lucidly expanded and comprehensively discussed in Barker v Wingo. Their Lordships also acknowledge the desirability of applying the same or similar criteria to any constitution, written or unwritten, which protects an accused from oppression by delay in criminal proceedings. The weight to be attached to each factor must, however, vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and from case to case.’ and ‘It was argued on behalf of the respondents, the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Attorney-General, that the applicant was able to obtain redress by waiting until his retrial, ordered for 11 May 1982, and then submitting to the Gun Court at the commencement of the retrial that the proceeding should be dismissed on the grounds that in the events which had happened a retrial would be an abuse of the process of the court. Their Lordships cannot accept this submission. If the constitutional rights of the applicant had been infringed by failing to try him within a reasonable time, he should not be obliged to prepare for a retrial which must necessarily be convened to take place after an unreasonable time.’
‘Their Lordships accept the submission of the respondents that, in giving effect to the rights granted by sections 13 and 20 of the Constitution of Jamaica, the courts of Jamaica must balance the fundamental right of the individual to a fair trial within a reasonable time against the public interest in the attainment of justice in the context of the prevailing system of legal administration and the prevailing economic, social and cultural conditions to be found in Jamaica. The administration of justice in Jamaica is faced with a problem, not unknown in other countries, of disparity between the demand for legal services and the supply of legal services. Delays are inevitable. The solution is not necessarily to be found in an increase in the supply of legal services by the appointment of additional judges, the creation of new courts and the qualification of additional lawyers. Expansion of legal services necessarily depends on the financial resources available for that purpose. Moreover an injudicious attempt to expand an existing system of courts, judges and practitioners, could lead to deterioration in the quality of the justice administered and to the conviction of the innocent and the acquittal of the guilty. The task of considering these problems falls on the legislature of Jamaica, mindful of the provisions of the Constitution and mindful of the advice tendered from time to time by the judiciary, the prosecution service and the legal profession of Jamaica. The task of deciding whether and what periods of delay explicable by the burdens imposed on the courts by the weight of criminal causes suffice to contravene the rights of a particular accused to a fair hearing within a reasonable time falls upon the courts of Jamaica and in particular on the members of the Court of Appeal who have extensive knowledge and experience of conditions in Jamaica. In the present case the Full Court stated that a delay of two years in the Gun Court is a current average period of delay in cases in which there are no problems for witnesses. The Court of Appeal did not demur. Their Lordships accept the accuracy of the statement and the conclusion, implicit in the statement, that in present circumstances in Jamaica, such delay does not by itself infringe the rights of an accused to a fair hearing within a reasonable time. No doubt the courts and the prosecution authorities recognise the need to take all reasonable steps to reduce the period of delay wherever possible.’
Templeman L
[1985] 2 All ER 585, [1985] AC 937
England and Wales
Cited by:
CitedRegina v Chichester Justices ex parte Stephen Alexander Crowther Admn 14-Oct-1998
The defendant sought judicial review of an order made in 1998 issuing a warrant for his committal for failure to pay a confiscation order made in 1991. He had served 6 years imprisonment, and in default of payment a further 18 months. He was . .
CitedDirector of Public Prosecutions and others v Tokai and others PC 12-Jun-1996
(Trinidad and Tobago) The appellant had been charged in 1981 with offences alleged to have been committed shortly before. The proceedings continued until his appeal for one was dismissed in 1988. The wounding charges were proceeded with only in . .

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Updated: 28 January 2021; Ref: scu.187181