Daniel Thwaites | The injustice system and Khajeel Mais
What has happened to the family of Khajeel Mais is disgraceful. After this non-event of the non-trial, I feel our injustice system just declared him an unimportant non-person. Five years after taking a bullet to the head, the police's suspect has walked free, leaving nobody punished and no other suspect charged.
There's a torrent of commentary on the case already, and I have found it impossible to keep up with all the stories, theories, interviews, accusations, counter-accusations, and explanations. Then, on top of this flood are waves of legal mumbo-jumbo pitched at an incensed public, intending, so far as I can tell, to impress upon them the idea that their anger is illegitimate and the result of juridical ignorance.
It certainly appears that skilful investigators would have gathered a great deal of evidence, perhaps circumstantial, that could have been presented by prosecutors. Was there paint on the cars thought to be involved in the collision? If someone absconded right after the incident, was that planned travel? The unavailability of the firearm raises very many issues, and some negative inferences, particularly if that unavailability was procured by the accused.
Plus, if what the taxi man, Wayne Wright, says is true, and that he was induced to sign empty pages for a fraudulent statement, the arrest of at least one policeman ought to be imminent. If what he says is false, I anticipate charges against him.
But is the public mistaken? In the interviews that I have been lucky enough to catch, I was astonished to learn that official wisdom is that all performed their jobs well throughout this saga.
The DPP congratulated her office and the police force. She did, however, level some carefully worded general criticisms of the defence Bar and, to my ears at any rate, upbraid the public for such things as failing to keep its moral compass properly tuned and being corruptly unenthusiastic about giving evidence.
The chief of police thanked and congratulated his officers and investigators on a job well done.
Defence counsel was grateful that the justice system worked, levelling serious criticisms at the news media for carrying information suggesting it was a clear case. I've been told, though I haven't heard it myself, that they have some searing criticisms of the DPP, too.
The Firearm Licensing Authority, which also, undoubtedly, did a good job, had no ballistic signature recorded for the firearm in question.
Sensing, no doubt, the crescendo of outrage, the minister of justice has assured us that he is aware of the scandal. I have every reason to think he is sincere. However, I genuinely wonder what he can do to give redress here.
Everyone, therefore, seems to have worked well, and they could all congratulate each other and head home to have a nice cup o' tea, except for one little unresolved problem: Someone has spilled the innards of a 17-year-old on to a taxi seat, and in the land of wood, water, and 'de runnings', there's zero redress for it.
Indeed, people have drawn the conclusion that if you have enough money, or the right links, you can buy out the system or buy the best lawyers. And while that has been a long-standing concern on this Rock, there's a widespread feeling that it's been a long time since it's been displayed as raw and in yuh face as this.
My eldest son is the age of Khajeel, so I have thought about this, and I invite you to consider: If someone were to shoot your child in the head, what would you do? Wouldn't you want to hurt them or their family in return?
Well, that is how it goes in less sophisticated societies where there isn't even the pretence at a more sophisticated justice system. If you kill one of my people, my tribe will declare war on your tribe, hoping to kill very many of you. You can imagine the tremendous advance to even reach the point of saying, "an eye for an eye', and if you kill my son, I will kill your son.
So a justice system, if it is to convince me that an attack on my family ought not to be answered by retaliation, is based on trust and confidence.
I need some confidence that there will be a fair, impartial, and thorough investigation of the facts. That's the job of the police.
Then I need to trust that the State will advocate for me and hold the perpetrator to account by marshalling the facts and presenting my case. That's the job of the DPP.
Then I have to be confident that an empowered judge will hear my case and carefully consider what comes before him.
I want to see the society express revulsion at cold-blooded murder and to punish the perpetrator. That perpetrator didn't only hurt me, but hurt the whole society, and punishment levelled by the society stands in place of the punishment that I would have wanted to exact.
Everything in that picture has been violated. And people have the suspicion that this is happening all the time, even if not always in this egregious and obvious way.
So I think the public's fury is justified at this compound failure. This non-trial is a reflection of Jamaica's deep and persistent shortcomings and has brought the system into deserved disrepute.
If we as a people in charge of our own affairs for 54 years and counting lack the capacity to satisfactorily handle this murder of a 17-year-old on his way to a party, we may want to consider - like UWI - reinvesting authority with the Visitor. We are failing.
- Daniel Thwaites is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.