Bermuda’s third plea: Guilty With an Explanation

In Stephen Mayor v The Queen [2017] SC Bda 4 App (13 January 2017), the Supreme Court of Bermuda has finally had to consider the meaning and effect of the legally incoherent plea, often used by those accused of road traffic offences before the Magistrates’ Court in Bermuda, of being “Guilty With an Explanation“.

The Supreme Court of Bermuda has held, following English criminal practice as it is reflected in Blackstone’s Criminal Practice 2017, that “It is essential that the plea be unequivocal. … If, when the charge is put, the accused does not answer directly or qualifies what purports to be a guilty plea with words suggesting that he is really putting forward a defence, then the court must try to resolve the ambiguity. If the plea remains ambiguous, the court must reject it and hear evidence before convicting or acquitting.

Since “Guilty with an Explanation” is, without any further analysis or investigation by the Magistrate leading to clarification of the true nature of the plea, a quintessentially ambiguous or equivocal plea on the part of the accused, Chief Justice Kawaley concluded that the Magistrate was wrong to convict the accused on the basis of such a plea alone, and directed a re-trial before a different Magistrate.

Since “Guilty with an Explanation” is so frequently used in Traffic Court, the inevitable consequence of Chief Justice Kawaley’s ruling is that each Court session will be delayed yet further, as the true meaning and effect of each such plea is clarified or confirmed by the Magistrate.

 

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