Senators have approved moves to modernise jury selection and allow some cannabis convictions to be wiped clean.
The Criminal Code Amendment No 2 Act 2020 and the Expungement of Convictions Act 2020 won support in the Upper House.
Kathy Lynn Simmons, the Attorney-General and Minister of Legal Affairs, said the changes to jury selection would create “equality of arms” between prosecutors and the defendant in cases in the Supreme Court.
Prosecutors were allowed to “stand by” an unlimited number of potential jurors without reason, unlike the defence, but the amendment gave both sides an equal number of challenges.
Ms Simmons said for most cases both sides would be allowed three challenges, increased to five in the most serious cases.
She added: “We have five challenges for cases with a mandatory life sentence. Those offences are the most serous known to our laws, offences like murder.”
Ms Simmons added that the amendments also removed reference to death-penalty cases and a “sexist” provision that allowed all-male juries in cases “where matters of an indecent nature are likely to arise”.
Dwayne Robinson, an opposition senator, said the amendments had the full support of the One Bermuda Alliance.
He added: “I have heard several cases of people who have claimed jury bias and I do believe this particular amendment brings us in step with other jurisdictions to the South and the UK”.
He said that the amendment both modernised the legislation and would serve to improve equality.
Jarion Richardson, also an OBA senator, said that the criminal justice system had to evolve and problems with fairness had to be tackled.
James Jardine, an independent senator, said the inequality of challenges never seemed fair.
He added: “This seems like a just and far more fair system of dealing with court matters.”
Ms Simmons said the expungement legislation would allow people with convictions for possession of less than 7g of cannabis to apply to have their convictions wiped from the record.
She added that the Government had decriminalised the possession of small quantities of cannabis in late 2017, but many Bermudians were still affected by a past conviction.
Ms Simmons said she had spoken to a 77-year-old senior denied permission to enter the United States for several years because of a cannabis conviction when he was a young man.
She added: “This will make a difference in so many people’s lives. It’s very important that we make people whole in our own country first, to the extent that these minor convictions have prevented people from obtaining employment and they carry the stigma.”
But Ms Simmons warned that the Government had no control over the US “stop list”.
Mr Jardine said a criminal record was an “unduly harsh cross to bear” for many.
He added that he hoped problems with the US stop list could be addressed in the near future.
Mr Robinson said the legislation should be applauded because young black men had been “in a sense” targeted in drug convictions.
He said the expungement would allow many people an opportunity to overcome a mistake in their youth.