Jamaican courts could get UK help to tackle case backlog
Gary Spaulding, Senior Gleaner Writer
Having walked the walk, professionals in the United Kingdom's Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) are looking at ways to assist in combating the perennial backlog of cases hampering court proceedings in Jamaica.
Highlighting the importance of criminal justice reform in achieving national security, the director of public prosecutions (DPP) for England and Wales, Alison Saunders, told The Gleaner that the CPS was focusing on victims within the criminal justice system in order to facilitate smooth passage along a jagged path.
Saunders, who led a team to Jamaica last week, said the Mario Deane case had not escaped the attention of the CPS. Deane, a 31-year-old Jamaican man, died as a result of a beating he received under controversial circumstances in police lock-up last month..
Saunders stressed that the focus of the CPS was to ensure that victims were viewed as priority "to make sure that they are engaged in the criminal justice process".
Added Saunders: "We keep them on board so that their journey through the criminal justice system is as easy as possible."
In that vein, Saunders disclosed that the current focus of the CPS was to ensure that the highest standards are maintained in the execution of its functions.
Saunders was a first-time visitor to the Caribbean, in which Jamaica was the main focus of three countries that she visited, having spent four days here. A barrister by profession, she joined the CPS in 1986, the year it was formed. Prior to that, she worked at Lloyds of London following her pupilage and has become the first DPP to be appointed from within the CPS.
She told The Gleaner that there were some similarities between Jamaica and UK experiences in relation to ensuring that the right cases were obtained from the police and the need to work with investigators in the law-enforcement arm to build strong cases before taking them to court.
"We have a code for prosecutors which is very similar to the Jamaican code, and for the DPP's office," said Saunders, who assumed the position of DPP in England and Wales on November 1, 2013.
"We are really using that to make sure that we take the right positions on the code, cases that have got sufficient evidence and it is in the public interest to prosecute," she added.
Asked for her impression of Jamaica's criminal justice system, Saunders said: "At the moment, there are lots of things that we can look at that we can help [with] because we have been through a similar process."
Saunders said this included strategies to have victims and witnesses assist in reducing the number of cases languishing in the system.
"We have to make it much easier for victims to come forward and give evidence by engaging with the justice process," she said.
"I think for both countries, it is really important that people have confidence in the criminal justice system … . We were talking about issues relating to video interviews being taken to court with the involvement of police and suspects."
Saunders cited case management as another issue that required attention.
"Looking to make sure that there are sufficient jury members, there are lots of things that we can look at jointly, where we still need to develop."
Saunders has faith that all obstacles standing in the path of the local criminal justice system can be surmounted.
"I certainly think that there is hope, as the people with whom we have been engaged are willing to look at the problems. They have acknowledged the issues and want to make a difference," she said.
Saunders referred to Chief Justice Zaila McCalla as a prime example of the symbols of improvement.
"When I talk to her (McCalla), she was very keen to make sure that her judges were case-managed and reducing backlogs."
She said the sentiments were echoed by Jamaica's Director of Public Prosecutions Paula Llewellyn and government ministers with whom her team had spoken.