Its so­lu­tion must be jus­tice

Jamaica Gleaner - - NEWS - Ter­rence F. Wil­liams is the Com­mis­sioner of In­de­pen­dent Com­mis­sion of In­ves­ti­ga­tions (INDECOM).

WE MUST all be con­cerned about the num­ber of mur­ders that are com­mit­ted in our coun­try. The prob­lem calls for ma­ture dis­cus­sion, set­tled de­ter­mi­na­tion and steady ac­tion. The pre­ven­tion, de­tec­tion, and pun­ish­ment of mur­ders and mur­der­ers must be the most im­por­tant is­sue for our coun­try. Sadly, some of the cur­rent dis­cus­sions are quite trou­bling when they seem to sug­gest that police ac­count­abil­ity is part of the prob­lem in the fight against crime.

The pro­po­nents claim that police are de­mo­ti­vated be­cause of the In­de­pen­dent Com­mis­sion of In­ves­ti­ga­tions (INDECOM) and that is why they can­not fight crime ef­fec­tively. They do not claim that INDECOM has acted il­le­gally or un­fairly; but that the ro­bust over­sight is dele­te­ri­ous to police morale. The com­mis­sioner of police has con­sis­tently de­nied that this is so. In­deed, if it were so, it would not speak well of our con­stab­u­lary. If you in­tend to act law­fully and con­sis­tent with police reg­u­la­tions, over­sight ought not to pre­vent you from do­ing your work. The right­eous ac­coun­tant is not hin­dered by the fear of the au­di­tor.

The es­tab­lish­ment of INDECOM was one of the many re­forms in­tended to im­prove the police ser­vice. That ser­vice was found to have en­demic cul­tural prob­lems that tar­nished its pro­fes­sion­al­ism and hin­dered its ef­fec­tive­ness in fight­ing crime. Such deep-seated prob­lems will take time to be re­versed and there will re­main some who would want to re­turn to the days when they were not stri­dently crit­i­cised. But trans­for­ma­tion of the police force must come. It is not helped by ap­peas­ing those who seek to re­tard change or de­flect­ing at­ten­tion from the real causative fac­tors for our crime prob­lem.

In the dis­cus­sions some say that: “We must give the police a ‘free hand’.” This is, of course, a eu­phemism for al­low­ing the police a mar­gin of un­law­ful­ness in fight­ing crime.

QUES­TIONS

We must ask our­selves these ques­tions: a. Is Ja­maica’s high mur­der

rate a new phe­nom­e­non? b. As the re­cent and very con­tro­ver­sial in­ci­dents have been at­trib­uted to crim­i­nal gangs, are the op­er­a­tions of these gangs some­thing that just hap­pened? c. Has there ever been any sig­nif­i­cant and sus­tained im­prove­ment in the mur­der rate? A knee-jerk re­ac­tion to crime is to re­strict rights and in­crease police pow­ers. This has never re­ally worked in a democ­racy. We can­not be in a per­ma­nent state of emer­gency. In any event, the right to life, which would be in­fringed by re­mov­ing ef­fec­tive over­sight of the police, can­not be dero­gated from, even in a state of emer­gency. For many years we had the Sup­pres­sion of Crimes Act, which gave pow­ers to the police that pre­vi­ously would have re­quired a ju­di­cial war­rant. When re­viewed by the Ja­maican Bar As­so­ci­a­tion, the act was found to have had no ef­fect on crime re­duc­tion. Hu­man Rights Watch’s 1989 re­port found that the act had a dele­te­ri­ous ef­fect, as many of­fi­cers got ac­cus­tomed to the ab­sence of ac­count­abil­ity and acted with gen­eral im­punity.

A ‘FREE HAND’ IS NOT THE AN­SWER

Grant­ing the police a “free hand” may be ap­peal­ing to some, par­tic­u­larly when crime reaches close to us, or our fam­i­lies. But this is no so­lu­tion. Not only is it un­law­ful, morally wrong and re­duces us to the level of the crim­i­nal, but it suf­fers our in­hab­i­tants (par­tic­u­larly young men) to the fi­nal and un­re­view­able ad­ju­di­ca­tion of a state agent him­self prone to er­ror, caprice and the pos­si­bil­ity of ve­nal­ity.

The Ja­maica Con­stab­u­lary Force’s (JCF) Cor­po­rate Plan for 2015-2018 com­pre­hen­sively sets out the real is­sues in Ja­maica and in the JCF that form the con­text for our crime prob­lem. The JCF Cor­po­rate Plan iden­ti­fies gangs, poor ur­ban plan­ning, lack of CCTV sur­veil­lance, an in­ef­fi­cient jus­tice sys­tem and low pub­lic sup­port for the police as among the con­trib­u­tory fac­tors to the crime prob­lem. They also can­didly recog­nise that their poor hu­man rights, pub­lic im­age and cus­tomer-ser­vice record need to be ad­dressed.

The police need pub­lic sup­port. Wan­ton abridge­ment of hu­man rights will not foster pub­lic sup­port for the police or Ja­maican jus­tice. It will al­ways be the case that those who have the power to re­strict rights will hardly suf­fer from this re­stric­tion. What is pro­duced is a so­ci­ety where the law is un­evenly en­forced and re­spect for jus­tice eroded. Such a scheme is likely to cor­rupt state agents, re­duce pro­fes­sion­al­ism of mem­bers of the JCF, and deepen pub­lic dis­re­gard for Ja­maican jus­tice. In­stead police re­form, ef­fec­tive over­sight and the for­mal jus­tice sys­tem must be cham­pi­oned.

The sym­bi­otic re­la­tion­ship be­tween na­tional se­cu­rity and jus­tice seems to be well known and hon­oured con­cep­tu­ally, but not ob­served when re­sources are be­ing al­lo­cated. Given our high mur­der rate, the state should or­gan­ise it­self to en­sure that homi­cides are ef­fec­tively in­ves­ti­gated and pros­e­cuted. Se­nior prose­cu­tors should be ad­vis­ing on ev­ery mur­der case, prior to charge, to en­sure that it is fit for charge and that all rel­e­vant ev­i­dence has been col­lected. We should be aim­ing for tri­als to be com­pleted within a year of charge. All of these re­quire sig­nif­i­cant in­vest­ment in ci­ti­zen se­cu­rity and jus­tice.

There are in­suf­fi­cient court­rooms, judges, and prose­cu­tors; their num­bers hav­ing barely in­creased since in­de­pen­dence and, as such, the num­ber of cases have long ago out­stripped their ca­pac­i­ties. Le­gal aid rates, for poor de­fen­dants, are much too low. This state of af­fairs means that there will be long waits for cases to be tried, bail would be granted where oth­er­wise it would not, and wit­nesses’ mem­o­ries will fade. If the ac­tors in the jus­tice sys­tem were to even get a bas­ket, their wa­ter-car­ry­ing would be im­proved. If we do not sup­port the for­mal jus­tice sys­tem we will con­tinue to see out­lawry.

In the cur­rent bud­get, the Min­istry of Jus­tice has been al­lo­cated just over $6 bil­lion. The Min­istry of Na­tional Se­cu­rity re­ceived al­most 10 times that amount. Re­cently, the JCF an­nounced that their clearup rate for mur­ders was more than 50 per cent, and in 2015 they charged 700 per­sons for mur­der. These 700 fall on top of the ex­ist­ing back­log of cases in ev­ery parish. How many judges, prose­cu­tors, le­gal aid coun­sel and court­rooms do we need to see all these cases com­pleted rea­son­ably ex­pe­di­tiously?

I humbly sug­gest that prop­erly re­sourc­ing the jus­tice sys­tem ought to be one of the foci of at­ten­tion in the fight against crime. Thus, fight­ing crime can­not mean only fund­ing the se­cu­rity side of the fence; there must be com­men­su­rate as­sets given to the jus­tice side.

When Peter Tosh sang: “I don’t want no peace; I want equal rights and jus­tice”, I took him to mean that he did not want the kind of ephemeral “peace” that came from op­pres­sive and ar­bi­trary state agents. Rather than this kind of con­trol, he ap­pealed for the sus­tained order that comes from the uni­form ap­pli­ca­tion of the law and the fair de­ter­mi­na­tion of dis­putes. Crime threat­ens so­cial order; its so­lu­tion must be jus­tice.

The sym­bi­otic re­la­tion­ship be­tween na­tional se­cu­rity and jus­tice seems to be well known and hon­oured con­cep­tu­ally, but not ob­served when re­sources are be­ing al­lo­cated.

I

GUEST COLUM­NIST

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