Law change empowers court to hold hearings with defendants in absentia

Court trial of criminal offences and verdict reading in the future can be done even without the presence of the defendants under amendments to the Criminal Procedure Code overwhelmingly endorsed by the National Legislative Assembly on Friday.

The NLA unanimously voted in favour of the amendments which will empower the court to conduct hearings as well as to hand down verdicts behind the back of the defendants in case they jump bail, intentionally skip hearings or become too sick to attend the hearings.

The endorsement of the changes to the Criminal Procedure Code represents a significant departure from the decades-old basic criminal court proceedings that court trial must be done in the presence of the defendants.

In the past, many defendants took advantage of this loophole by jumping bail thus rendering court trial unable to proceed and, on many instances, until the statute of limitations of the cases have expired.

According to the amendments, court trial can proceed without the presence of the defendants three months after the court has issued warrant for the arrest of the missing defendants.

During the pre-trial hearings, the court can appoint a lawyer for a defendant in case he/she does not have one.


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