Fund­ing jus­tice es­sen­tial to fight­ing crime

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

TWO WEEKS ago, in a Sun­day Gleaner ar­ti­cle ‘Crime threat­ens so­cial or­der; its so­lu­tion must be jus­tice’, I sug­gested that the proper re­sourc­ing of the jus­tice sys­tem ought to be the fo­cus of at­ten­tion in the fight against crime. On Tues­day last, I had the oc­ca­sion to speak to St Cather­ine com­mu­nity lead­ers at the NHT Twick­en­ham Park Of­fice, at which time I ad­dressed the is­sue fur­ther, giv­ing sta­tis­tics and a pro­posal for ad­di­tional fund­ing. The fol­low­ing is an ex­cerpt of the speech.

At the time of Ja­maica’s In­de­pen­dence, our is­land had one of the low­est mur­der rates in the world, with an es­ti­mated 3.9 killings per 100,000 per­sons. Forty-three years later, in 2005, Ja­maica ac­counted for the high­est mur­der rate of 58 killings per 100,000. In 2014, there was a no­table de­cline to 37 killings per 100,000 per­sons (1,005 peo­ple). How­ever, in a re­port by The Econ­o­mist, they were of the view that there was no ap­par­ent rea­son for the de­cline and thus no guar­an­tee that it would not re­bound. A year later in 2015, there was an in­crease to 1,192 mur­ders. We must ad­dress the fun­da­men­tals to bring sus­tained im­prove­ment.

One so­lu­tion to our crime prob­lem must be a prop­erly op­er­at­ing jus­tice sys­tem. There must be a syn­ergy be­tween the op­er­a­tions of the min­istries of na­tional se­cu­rity and jus­tice. The onus is on the State to en­sure that mur­ders are law­fully and ef­fec­tively in­ves­ti­gated and tried quickly. The fun­da­men­tals have to be to im­prove po­lice pro­fes­sion­al­ism, al­lo­cate se­nior prose­cu­tors to pro­vide real-time ad­vice to de­tec­tives on se­ri­ous cases, and have case tri­als within 18 months.

UN­DER­FUND­ING OF JUS­TICE SYS­TEM

A ro­bust jus­tice sys­tem re­quires ad­e­quate fund­ing. In the cur­rent bud­get al­lo­ca­tions, the Min­istry of Jus­tice (MOJ) gets just a lit­tle over 10 per cent ($6.1 bil­lion) of the al­lo­ca­tion given to the Min­istry of Na­tional Se­cu­rity ($57 bil­lion). We need to re­visit the pe­riod of 1988 to 1992 when the al­lo­ca­tions to the MOJ were on av­er­age 25-32 per cent of the Min­istry of Na­tional Se­cu­rity’s.

The sug­ges­tion is not for a de­crease in the al­lo­ca­tions to the Min­istry of Na­tional Se­cu­rity, as there are still many ini­tia­tives within that min­istry that re­quire ad­di­tional fund­ing. Ini­tia­tives such as a CCTV net­work across the is­land, in­crease in the ca­pac­ity of the foren­sic lab, im­prov­ing con­di­tions at po­lice sta­tions, and sup­port for Ma­jor Or­gan­ised Crime and An­tiCor­rup­tion Agency (MOCA). In the face of ris­ing crime, suc­ces­sive gov­ern­ments have rightly in­creased fund­ing to the Min­istry of Na­tional Se­cu­rity but have missed the need to sim­i­larly in­crease fund­ing for jus­tice.

Jus­tice can be a lev­eller be­tween State and ci­ti­zen, pro­tect­ing the weak, if they are right, against the strong. We ought not to be gov­erned by might but by what is right; by prin­ci­ple rather than power. In 2015, the Ja­maica Con­stab­u­lary Force (JCF) re­ported a 55 per cent clear-up rate or 700 peo­ple be­ing charged with mur­der, an in­crease from 49 per cent in 2014. How­ever, with the courts be­ing al­ready back­logged, this ex­ac­er­bates the pres­sure on the courts to com­plete cases quickly.

The Gleaner re­ported in Jan­uary of this year, that for the pe­riod Septem­ber to De­cem­ber 2015, the Home Cir­cuit Court alone had 578 cases, of which 72 were dis­posed of and 500 tra­versed. This means that for ev­ery case com­pleted, seven were not done. This has been a set­tled sit­u­a­tion for some time. The 2008-2009 MOJ re­port had an es­ti­mated dis­posal rate of 50 per cent (621 cases in Cir­cuit Court). By 2011-2012, the di­rec­tor of pub­lic prose­cu­tions (DPP) re­ported that of the 2,309 cases listed for Cir­cuit/High Court, 1,396 tra­versed and only 913 were com­pleted. This shows an im­prove­ment of over 50 per cent in cases com­pleted, but a wors­en­ing of over 100 per cent in cases tra­versed. There con­tin­ues to be more cases be­fore the court but ba­si­cally the same num­ber of judges since 1962 to try them.

Govern­ment lawyers have an un­man­age­able num­ber of cases on their dock­ets. These lead to long de­lays in try­ing cases. A sys­tem which has en­demic de­lays en­cour­ages a cul­ture of ad­journ­ments. De­fen­dants who ought to plead guilty may not do so as they might pre­fer to wait and see if the case will ever be tried. Law-en­force­ment of­fi­cers work­ing in these con­di­tions will make ar­rests but be frus­trated by wit­nesses los­ing in­ter­est or dis­ap­pear­ing. The re­spect for jus­tice will dwin­dle. Thus, we have ephemeral con­trol, rather than the sus­tained or­der that comes from the uni­form ap­pli­ca­tion of the law and fair de­ter­mi­na­tion of dis­putes.

SO­LU­TION

It is my hum­ble rec­om­men­da­tion that the pro­vi­sions to the Min­istry of Jus­tice would need to be at least dou­bled for the 2017-2018 bud­get, tak­ing it to $12 bil­lion, and re­turn­ing the re­source re­la­tion with Min­istry of Se­cu­rity near to 1992 ra­tio. How can this be achieved? The Caribbean Pol­icy Re­search In­sti­tute (CaPRI), in a study of the Na­tional Hous­ing Trust (NHT) this year, re­ported that the NHT re­quires far less money than it re­ceives, and the em­ployer’s con­tri­bu­tion can be elim­i­nated or di­verted to the Con­sol­i­dated Fund. The NHT em­ployer’s con­tri­bu­tion for 2016-2017 is es­ti­mated at $14 bil­lion. Half of that amount would be more than enough to fund the dou­bling of the al­lo­ca­tion to the jus­tice min­istry.

At the end of the pre­sen­ta­tion, the group of com­mu­nity lead­ers, led by the chair­man of the Lead­er­ship Coun­cil, Hopeton Henry, passed a res­o­lu­tion re­quest­ing the govern­ment to pro­vide the agen­cies with the in­crease in fund­ing and ad­e­quate re­sources that they re­quire.

I

The proper re­sourc­ing of the jus­tice sys­tem ought to be the fo­cus of at­ten­tion in the fight against crime.

GUEST COLUM­NIST

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