Is jus­tice de­layed for chil­dren?

Jamaica Gleaner - - KELLY’S WORLD/ LAWS OF EVE -

ON NOVEM­BER 23, 2016, Amnesty In­ter­na­tional re­leased a re­port ti­tled ‘Wait­ing in Vain: Un­law­ful Po­lice Killings and Rel­a­tives’ Long Strug­gle for Jus­tice’. At the press con­fer­ence, the hon­ourable min­is­ter of jus­tice re­port­edly said, “We ad­mit that there are sig­nif­i­cant de­lays in the de­liv­ery of jus­tice, es­pe­cially in the courts, and it is a mat­ter which we are work­ing on to see how we can re­duce the ex­ces­sive de­lays in the sys­tem.” He went on to also say, “... [T]he prob­lem is the slow process in the courts that is mak­ing a mock­ery of the de­liv­ery of jus­tice in Ja­maica.”

While the com­ment was made in re­la­tion to the pace at which vic­tims of ex­tra­ju­di­cial killings are able to re­ceive com­pen­sa­tion, those quo­ta­tions could be used to de­scribe the pro­ceed­ings in many other ar­eas within the courts in Ja­maica.

With­out point­ing fin­gers or cast­ing blame on any one en­tity, the fact is that it is ex­tremely dif­fi­cult to get rea­son­ably early hear­ing dates in any court, even in cases which cry out for ur­gent ac­tion to be taken. In the Supreme Court, it is not un­usual to wait for an en­tire day for the reg­is­trar to iden­tify a judge to hear an ap­pli­ca­tion for an in­junc­tion. In the Res­i­dent Mag­is­trate’s Court, a trial date in an ac­tion for re­cov­ery of pos­ses­sion may be nine months to one year from the date the mat­ter first went to court (while the ten­ant who ne­glects to pay rent re­mains in pos­ses­sion of the property). In the Fam­ily Court, even ap­pli­ca­tions un­der the Do­mes­tic Vi­o­lence Act are sched­uled for hear­ing more than one month from the date the in­for­ma­tion is laid before the court.

PRO­TEC­TION ACT

In the case of chil­dren who are sus­pected of be­ing abused, the Child Care and Pro­tec­tion Act (the act) should pro­vide an ex­pe­dited process “to pro­mote the best in­ter­ests, safety and well-be­ing of chil­dren”. Un­der that act, the man­date of the Of­fice of the Chil­dren’s Registry, which it es­tab­lishes is stated on its web­site to be to “... re­ceive re­ports of chil­dren who have been, are be­ing or are likely to be aban­doned, ne­glected, phys­i­cally or sex­u­ally ill-treated, or are oth­er­wise in need of care and pro­tec­tion. Af­ter re­ceiv­ing th­ese re­ports, the Chil­dren’s Registry records, as­sesses and then refers the re­ports to the Child De­vel­op­ment Agency (CDA) and the Of­fice of the Chil­dren’s Ad­vo­cate (OCA) for their in­ves­ti­ga­tion and ac­tion.”

Based on the pro­vi­sions of the act, a child’s best in­ter­ests may be se­cured if we en­sure that:

1. All per­sons are aware of their obli­ga­tions un­der Sec­tion 6 of the act to make a re­port to the Chil­dren’s Registry if they have in­for­ma­tion which causes them to sus­pect that a child has been, is be­ing or is likely to be aban­doned, ne­glected or phys­i­cally or sex­u­ally ill­treated, or is oth­er­wise in need of care and pro­tec­tion.

2. The pro­vi­sions of Sec­tion 13 are ap­plied, in that an “au­tho­rised per­son”, such as a pro­ba­tion, af­ter-care or chil­dren’s of­fi­cer, brings a child in need of care before the chil­dren’s court promptly.

3. In keep­ing with Sec­tion 4 of the act, in any pro­ceed­ings when a child is brought before the court, the judge quickly as­sesses whether a child re­quires le­gal rep­re­sen­ta­tion so that the Chil­dren’s Ad­vo­cate or a le­gal aid rep­re­sen­ta­tive can be ap­pointed to pro­tect the in­ter­ests of that child.

We have said all the right words, but the fact is that health-care pro­fes­sion­als and at­tor­neys of­ten com­plain about the slow pace of in­ves­ti­ga­tions that could lead to court ac­tion be­ing un­der­taken to pro­tect the wel­fare of our chil­dren. There is le­git­i­mate con­cern that in­ves­ti­ga­tions into al­le­ga­tions of child abuse, ne­glect or aban­don­ment are of­ten de­layed due to re­source and other con­straints while chil­dren are forced to re­main in the care of the al­leged abuser and ex­posed to the po­ten­tial for fur­ther abuse.

The case of young El­lie But­ler, about which I wrote on June 27, 2016 in an ar­ti­cle ti­tled ‘Lessons from El­lie”, should serve as a con­stant re­minder that it is al­ways best to act promptly in cases of sus­pected abuse of chil­dren.

I wel­come your feed­back as to your ex­pe­ri­ences in in­ter­ac­tions with state agen­cies, such as the Of­fice of the Chil­dren’s Registry, Of­fice of the Chil­dren’s Ad­vo­cate, and Child De­vel­op­ment Agency, in re­la­tion to ef­forts to pro­tect the in­ter­ests of chil­dren. Do they act promptly enough and, if not, what are the rea­sons for de­lays?

MCGREGOR

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