Wed | Dec 7, 2016

Jamaica needs a victim compensation fund

Published:Thursday | September 18, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Devon Dick

Mario Deane's family has refused government funds to help with his burial on the grounds that the Government will not accept liability for Deane's brutal and tragic death as a result of being beaten while in the custody of the police. Instead, the family has opted to seek help from civil society. This impasse raises the need for a victim compensation fund, wherein victims or families of victims would be automatically compensated when there is serious loss, harm or death caused by tragedies which are no fault of the victim.

There is already the Victim Support Unit in the Ministry of Justice and the next step for victims is to access funds from a victim compensation mechanism. The Victim Support Unit provides an opportunity for healing and remedial intervention for victims of crime. This unit provides emotional support through mediation and counselling. The unit does a good job of making the public aware of victim issues through visits to schools, churches and other civic groups. Importantly, the unit offers legal support by liaising with relevant government agency and court support whereby victims are helped with preparing victims for court proceedings and giving emotional support during the process. Hurting and at-risk children (6-18 years old) are taken out of their volatile environment for a day of therapy to provide them with adequate coping skills to overcome traumatic experiences.

However, more needs to be done. In the case of Deane, it should be automatic that a reasonable grant be given for funeral expenses and a gratuity to immediate dependent family members to compensate for the loss of a breadwinner.

NEED To REACH OUT

One of the main functions of a government is to provide security. Since the Government is charged with this responsibility to protect Mario Deane and it failed to do so, then the society to which he belonged owes his family compensation. We cannot be agitating for reparations from England because of the atrocities of slavery and not compensate victims of brutal deaths.

If there are children, they should benefit from free education at least up to the secondary level, and the Programme of Advancement Through Health and Education should play a role in facilitating this. It is stressful enough to lose a family member by senseless and brutal killing and then to add lack of financial support is cruel.

It is possible that someone might not be killed but seriously injured, even paralysed. This person could suffer emotional, mental and financial loss. Therefore, these persons should be compensated. Since most victims are from the poorer classes, it is urgent that there be a victim compensation fund to help vulnerable people.

There are some persons who would be exempt. If a person is a member of a criminal gang, then he or his family would not be entitled to compensation.

So where would the funds come from to establish this victim compensation fund? We could use some of the proceeds from ill-gotten and illegal activities. To augment this fund, we could explore the possibility of accessing funds from the National Insurance Fund.

A victim compensation fund is not a novel idea. Governmental compensation for crime victims dates back to the ancient Babylonian Code of Hammurabi (c. 1775 BC), considered to be the oldest known written body of criminal law. Government compensation funds were revived in the 20th century with New Zealand establishing one in 1963, Britain in 1964, several Australian states and the Canadian provinces shortly thereafter, and California in 1965.

Let Jamaica be next to establish a victim compensation fund.

Rev Devon Dick is pastor of the Boulevard Baptist Church in St Andrew. He is author of 'The Cross and the Machete', and 'Rebellion to Riot'. Send feedback tocolumns@ gleanerjm.com.