Wed | Aug 23, 2017

No impunity in lock-up killings

Published:Monday | August 10, 2015 | 8:00 AM
Mark Golding

The conditions in some lock-ups in Jamaica are substandard and in need of substantial upgrading. The delay in Jamaica's legal system is also unacceptable, and (in particular, in this context) exacerbates the angst of aggrieved families of victims who are crying out for justice.

These matters are not in dispute. The Government of Jamaica is working to tackle them, albeit that the pace of improvements is impacted by the prioritisation of scarce public resources amid the multiplicity of competing worthy causes. Our efforts in this regard are continuing, and we remain fully committed to achieving the change that Jamaica is yearning for and needs.

On the other hand, your editorial of August 4, 2015, titled 'The impunity of lock-ups', made several allegations of impunity in relation to persons who have died while in police custody, including Mario Deane and the recent incident involving Marlon Cherrington.

The accusation of impunity implies that no one is held responsible and nothing is being done. This view is incorrect and unfounded in light of the following, which your editorial failed to mention:

1. Cases of death in custody are investigated both by the police and, independently, by the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM).

2. In cases where INDECOM's investigation provides evidence of criminal conduct by state agents, INDECOM has the power to initiate a prosecution, and may do so without requiring the approval of the director of public prosecutions.

3. Several persons, both police and inmates, are before the court facing criminal charges relating to the killing of Mario Deane.

4. The recent killing of Marlon Cherrington is being investigated by the police and INDECOM. It is too early to say whether those investigations will elicit sufficient evidence of wrongdoing by identified individuals to enable persons to be charged and prosecuted for his killing.

5. One of the outcomes of the process undertaken in 2014-15 by the Cabinet subcommittee, co-chaired by the minister of national security and myself, was the drafting of an important, new human rights-compliant Administrative Policy for Persons Deprived of their Liberty, which was tabled in Parliament as a ministry paper in April of this year and has been adopted by the Jamaica Constabulary Force as its new governing administrative code for police lock-ups. The full, dedicated implementation of the new policy is essential.

6. Other recommendations made in the Cabinet subcommittee's final report to Cabinet, relating to laws and procedures concerning detention and access to bail, are far-reaching and are being further examined and refined at the technical level by a working group headed by the director of legal reform.

 

Strengthening INDECOM

 

7. The current parliamentary review of the Independent Commissions of Investigations Act, the statute that governs INDECOM, has accepted a number of recommendations (many of them proposed by INDECOM itself) for enhancing INDECOM's ability to investigate incidents effectively and hold accountable those members of law enforcement who act outside of the law and violate standards of professional conduct in the execution of their duties. Those recommendations will result in appropriate amendments to the statute, further strengthening INDECOM as an institution dedicated to accountability and the elimination of impunity.

The foregoing actions, individually and collectively, belie the suggestion of continuing impunity in cases of killing of persons held in lock-ups. To the contrary, they demonstrate the Government of Jamaica's continuing commitment to the rule of law and the protection of human rights, and our ongoing efforts to improve the administration of justice in Jamaica in a very challenging environment.

- Mark Golding is the minister of justice. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.