Thu | Nov 15, 2018

Editorial | Better half-justice than no justice at all

Published:Wednesday | January 24, 2018 | 12:00 AM

Skyrocketing homicides across Jamaica are not likely to sway the bloodthirsty mob from hankering after hanging and other means of capital punishment. Nor will these killings, we suspect, dull the shouts of those who call for tougher, longer sentences for murderers and other violent criminals and who urge resistance to cutting deals for convicts.

The upshot, of course, is that the Jamaican State has been notoriously inept, inefficient and/or corrupt in processing cases, particularly criminal procedures, thus contributing to a backlog that ties up the courts and inevitably leads to judicial constipation.

Not only does this highlight a key failing of the State, whose fundamental responsibility is to provide national security to its citizens and recourse to justice, but the logjam saps confidence in one of the critical organs of social stability. Apathy has two dangerous consequences. One, it induces citizens to surrender hope in resolving perceived slights or infringements and emboldens criminals to entrench rights breaches as the new normal. Second, and more sinister, it could further trigger social fracture if citizens increasingly resort to vigilante justice in seeking redress. In a country already riven by violence, it could deepen criminal contagion and turn usually law-abiding citizens into recruits of ruthlessness.

That is why we applaud the Sentence Reduction Day initiative and the prospects of speeding up the disposal of cases that could otherwise meander through the courts for upwards of many years. In fact, it is not rare that murder cases, for example, to move at snail’s pace, upwards of 10 years, stalled by court no-shows, juror-selection problems, conflicted scheduling, and other judicial dysfunctions.

Unjustifiable benefit

Much noise has been made about Phillip Brown, who brutally killed his 31-year-old girlfriend in 2016 and wrapped her body in tarpaulin. Brown, who was convicted and handed a 15-year- term in prison, is perceived by some to have unjustifiably benefited from the Sentence Reduction Day despite committing a heinous act. Perhaps so.

While we understand the outrage of the victim’s family and other Jamaicans, and though reserving comment on sentence reduction in the murder of Kerry-Ann Wilson, this newspaper urges broader reflection on the deficiencies of the State and the likelihood that dangerous criminals could escape because of witness absences and no-shows, as well as incoherent evidence that cannot survive scrutiny at trial.

Jamaica’s conviction rate, according to Professor Anthony Harriott, a noted criminologist and chairman of the Police Civilian Oversight Authority, is less than 10 per cent. That alarming statistic emphasises the rot besetting our national security and justice sector. Criminals, if they are willing to hold out, know that the odds are with them to weasel their way out of the jaws of justice.

It may not be the preferred outcome, but half-justice, perhaps, is better than no justice at all.