Judge only - Jury trial for persons accused of human trafficking may be scrapped
The fate of people who are accused of the heinous crime of trafficking in persons may soon be decided by a judge only, in court, as the Government takes steps to amend the law to revamp jury trials for such offences.
Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Justice Carol Palmer divulged yesterday that the Cabinet has approved a bill to amend the Trafficking in Persons (Prevention, Suppression and Punishment) Act to have a judge alone trying human-trafficking offences.
Human trafficking has been a serious problem in Jamaica, with the 2016 Global Slavery Index estimating that in 2015, some 5,800 persons were trafficked in Jamaica.
Palmer, who is also the chairperson of the National Task Force against Trafficking in Persons, was speaking at a handover ceremony of a bus, which is to be used to transport victims of human trafficking, at the Ministry of Justice on Constant Spring Road in Kingston.
"Jury trials for this case is difficult because you have to appreciate what the victim has gone through. To sit and face the monsters who had them enslaved, it's not easy," the permanent secretary asserted.
She also commented on another proposed adjustment to the current law, which would make an order of restitution by a judge enforceable. Palmer pointed out that there were provisions in the current law for restitution to be made to the victims but noted that the perpetrators could choose to ignore such an order.
While expressing delight that her ministry was able to donate the Toyota bus to the Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Unit of the police force, Palmer said, "I am very sad that the world has come to this - that we enslave each other for our own gains.
"I pray about this a lot because there has to be a way to eradicate this crime, despite the evil in which we live, from the face of the Earth."
Emphasising that the fight against human trafficking was not confined to the police or stakeholders in the justice sector, the permanent secretary called on every Jamaican to play his part in the national crusade to stamp out this nefarious activity.
"If you see something strange, we don't want you to investigate anything. You are not required to go to court. You are just required to say what you have seen," said Palmer, "by reporting your observation to the TIP Unit".
Human trafficking wreaking havoc on the society
Carol Palmer, chairperson of the National Task Force against Trafficking in Persons, believes that Jamaica should now have a Tier One ranking on the US State Department's watch list, noting that there were countries without legislation to fight human trafficking, yet they had a Tier One ranking.
Currently, Jamaica has a Tier Two ranking, which was upgraded from the Tier Two Watch List last year.
Tier Two consists of those countries whose governments do not fully meet the Trafficking Victims Protection Act's minimum standards but which are making significant efforts to comply.
In his comments at the handover ceremony, Clifford Chambers, assistant commissioner of police in charge of the Counter-Terrorism and Organised Crime Investigation branch, said that human trafficking continued to wreak havoc on the society.
He argued that this "lucrative and clandestine" trade had the potential to devastate a country.
He said that the Trafficking in Persons Unit has assisted in the investigation and repatriation of victims of human trafficking from countries such as Burma, Italy, China, Haiti, Cambodia, India, Guyana, Panama, and Colombia.
To date, the unit has helped to rescue 74 victims of human trafficking. Several persons have been arrested and charged with the offence of trafficking in persons.
Chambers reported that four cases ended in convictions last year.