Wed | Aug 16, 2017

Jaristotle’s Jottings | We want justice

Published:Thursday | June 1, 2017 | 6:00 AM

What a disappointing few weeks the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) has had. First it was the case of Police Corporal Dwayne Smart who was freed of charges for shooting two sisters in Yallahs - one fatally - followed by the reported challenges in the murder case against Christopher 'Dog Paw' Linton and, more recently, the collapse of the criminal case against Carlos Hill of Cash Plus infamy.

Many of us may be inclined to chide the DPP and her staff for being ineffective, maybe even comparing them to the West Indies cricket team, given their apparent penchant for dropping catches and snapping defeat from the jaws of victory. But is this comparison fair, to the DPP I mean?

First of all, one should consider the odds against which our prosecutors are working. Every accused person who ends up before the courts has to be treated as innocent until proven guilty. The burden of proof rests with the prosecution. Fair enough. However, one would think that given the burden they carry, adequate provisions would be made for them to operate more effectively under the circumstances. Not so. Successive governments have failed to provide the requisite resources, whether financial or human capital, to ensure a solid prosecutorial capacity. Even though the DPP has some good prosecutors on staff, the volume of work and the burden of proof often prove to be detrimental to the quality of case management and, ultimately, to the results. This is a classic case of giving someone a basket to carry water. It nuh wuk!

 

THE COURTS AND THE LAW

 

Putting aside the lack of technology and the poor conditions in our courts, and the archaic laws which abound, what I find particularly appalling is the ease with which cases are delayed by defence lawyers who manipulate the system through routine absences and the 'castrated' accommodation of their antics by our judges. This accommodation inevitably facilitates protracted delays, and ultimately collapse of the prosecution's cases. Witnesses disappear, sometimes permanently, the cases become more burdensome, and then poof, the accused go free not because they are not guilty, but because the system has failed. One can't help but wonder whether or not some of these defence lawyers are complicit in the disappearance of witnesses.

 

AVAILABLE EXPERTISE

 

While the Office of the Contractor General (OCG) and the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) have specific mandates, their investigations must ultimately be channelled through the courts. Too often there are public spats between the DPP, OCG and INDECOM over matters that are more territorial than progressive. These agencies have good, dedicated people on staff and could achieve far more if their efforts were better integrated. For example, would that Yallahs shooting case have had a different outcome if the DPP's prosecutors had been working more closely with investigators and experts at INDECOM and other government agencies? Come now, you agency heads, put egos aside. Jamaica first.

 

PUBLIC DEFENDER

 

Another major impediment to achieving justice in Jamaica is our general lack of understanding of the law and our rights thereunder. So Carlos Hill walks free from the criminal case, and then we hear that civil litigation may not be possible because the statute of limitations has expired.

Apparently, some Cash Plus 'victims' believed that by not pushing the criminal case and avoiding sending Hill to jail, they stood a better chance of getting their money back; a grave misconception which underpins the need for public education on such matters. Knowledge is power. Knowledge is power.

In cases like this where so many people are affected, does the public defender have a duty to proactively offer advice to the disenfranchised, even though no specific complaint may have been made? I would hope so. Something to consider, as I believe this could have made a significant difference.

People, justice delayed is justice denied. Justice must not only be done, it must appear to be done. If we give the DPP basket to carry water, justice will be but a fleeting illusion. If the court issues are not addressed and our laws updated, justice will remain in chambers. If our public agencies don't work together, justice will pass us by. If we are not educated as to our rights, we will never know justice.

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