Cyn­i­cism, dis­trust of the jus­tice sys­tem

Jamaica Gleaner - - OPINION & COMMENTARY - Jae­vion Nel­son is a youth de­vel­op­ment, HIV and hu­man-rights ad­vo­cate. Email feed­back to col­umns@glean­ and jae­

IT’S RATHER sad that, as is the seem­ing cus­tom, it took such a long time be­fore the mat­ter in­volv­ing the mur­der of 17-year-old Kha­jeel Mais was heard in court and there wasn’t a much more rig­or­ous de­lib­er­a­tion about the case. Un­doubt­edly, the out­come of the case, as some­one said on Twit­ter ear­lier this week, “has dealt a dev­as­tat­ing blow to the pub­lic’s per­cep­tion of [and] faith in our jus­tice sys­tem”.

Per­cep­tion of con­fi­dence in the sys­tem is my in­ter­est, and not to weigh in on the dis­cus­sions about what should have been the ver­dict. I am fully aware, one of my col­leagues said, ‘law is about ev­i­dence, not truth’. One won­ders, though, where is the so­phis­ti­cated in­ves­ti­ga­tion that we have seen in more ‘high-pro­file’ cases?

The is­sue of trust and con­fi­dence is par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant when you con­sider the level of trust there is in the jus­tice sys­tem. The 2012 Caribbean Hu­man De­vel­op­ment Re­port, for ex­am­ple, found that based on an opin­ion sur­vey ex­am­in­ing pub­lic trust in 11 in­sti­tu­tions, which was con­ducted in 2010 in Ja­maica, the army was highly ranked as the most trusted, with a score of 65.9 out of 100, while an in­sti­tu­tion like the Supreme Court ranked fourth, with a score of 51.3. The po­lice had a score of 32.6, which ranked them last.

When­ever a dis­cus­sion about the ef­fec­tive­ness of the jus­tice sys­tem comes up, we seem to race with our priv­i­leges in hand to a talk about the peo­ple as stake­hold­ers in se­cur­ing jus­tice for the peo­ple. Rarely do we seem to talk about how the ‘sys­tem’ is com­plicit and has fa­cil­i­tated the nor­mal­i­sa­tion of the level of dis­trust in the ‘sys­tem’ to ac­tu­ally work for the av­er­age man. Why are we so un­will­ing to talk about this?

What do we ac­tu­ally know about the sta­tus of the jus­tice re­form ef­forts by the gov­ern­ment and its de­vel­op­ment part­ners? The re­port from the Ja­maican Jus­tice Sys­tem Re­form Task Force, which was headed by the late Barry Che­vannes, was pub­lished/tabled in June 2007. The re­port found the fol­low­ing as it re­lates to trust and con­fi­dence (pre­sented verbatim):

1. One of the main con­se­quences of the prob­lems of ac­cess and de­lay has been a de­crease in pub­lic con­fi­dence in the jus­tice sys­tem. It is clear that there is pub­lic dis­trust about the courts.

2. Con­fi­dence has also been eroded be­cause of the frus­tra­tion with pro­posed re­forms that have not been fully im­ple­mented and due to the fail­ure of suc­ces­sive gov­ern­ments to pri­ori­tise fund­ing for jus­tice re­form. This ex­pe­ri­ence has re­sulted in cyn­i­cism and dis­trust on the part of many stake­hold­ers and some mem­bers of the pub­lic.


A num­ber of rec­om­men­da­tions were tabled around the crit­i­cal need for nec­es­sary re­forms that would en­gen­der ‘in­creased pub­lic con­fi­dence and trust that the jus­tice sys­tem is ac­ces­si­ble, fair and ac­count­able’, which we seem to be in des­per­ate need of. More specif­i­cally, it pointed to the need to im­prove ac­ces­si­bil­ity so ‘the pub­lic per­ceives the trial court and the jus­tice it de­liv­ers as ac­ces­si­ble’; en­sure ‘the pub­lic has trust and con­fi­dence that ba­sic trial court func­tions are con­ducted ex­pe­di­tiously and fairly, and that court de­ci­sions have in­tegrity’; and that ‘the pub­lic per­ceives the trial court as in­de­pen­dent, not un­duly in­flu­enced by other com­po­nents of gov­ern­ment, and ac­count­able’.

Sadly, while there have been some im­prove­ments, we don’t seem to be much closer to fully im­ple­ment­ing the rec­om­men­da­tions con­tained in the 350page doc­u­ment. Jus­tice is not a pri­or­ity for the Gov­ern­ment; it has not been be­yond lip ser­vice. The piece­meal ap­proach to im­prove the jus­tice sys­tem makes that quite clear. Un­til this changes, the rest of the stake­hold­ers needed to se­cure jus­tice will shy away from play­ing their part.

The dis­cus­sions around the con­clu­sion of the ‘X6 mur­der trial’ go well be­yond this in­di­vid­ual case. If we pay close at­ten­tion to what peo­ple are say­ing, with­out re­fut­ing with facts about how the law and jus­tice sys­tem work, we would see that. Peo­ple aren’t com­ment­ing be­cause they feel they are lawyers and so equipped to speak with such author­ity; they are out­raged be­cause they feel hurt, and are dis­mayed. They are ex­press­ing their frus­tra­tion be­cause, yet again, the sys­tem seemed to have failed in se­cur­ing jus­tice for the av­er­age Ja­maican. They are speak­ing out be­cause they, some­one in their fam­ily or some­one they know, might have had sim­i­lar ex­pe­ri­ences. They have read about such cases. Im­por­tantly, they know Kha­jeel Mais could have been them, their brother, friend, or co-worker. He could have been you; he could have been any­one of us.

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