Tue | Sep 19, 2017

Slow justice - Commish raises concerns about pace of court system

Published:Wednesday | June 14, 2017 | 6:00 AMLivern Barrett
Police Commissioner George Quallo (left) outlining anti-crime plans at a press conference at his St Andrew office yesterday. Novelette Grant (centre), deputy commissioner of police – administrative and supportive services, and Ealan Powell, assistant commissioner of police, are also pictured.

A total of 1,251 persons were arrested and charged with murder since January last year, but Police Commissioner George Quallo has raised concerns that the majority of them may not see the inside of a prison cell because of the snail's pace at which Jamaica's judicial system operates.

Quallo used his first press conference since he was appointed in April to complain that even after police investigators are successful in getting witnesses to testify in murder trials, the cases still take an average of seven years to be ventilated in court.

"If this trend continues, the 967 persons we arrested for murder last year and the 284 we arrested up to June 10 this year are not likely to face trial until 2024," Quallo lamented.

"During the wait, majority of the accused may be granted bail and are then better able to influence witnesses, whether with violence or bribes. Interest will naturally wane. Unfortunately, in the end, majority of these suspects will not be convicted."

The commissioner, however, sought to make it clear that he was not frustrated. "I'm concerned, and I'm sure that you, like most Jamaicans, share those concerns," he explained.

Up to late yesterday, Chief Justice Zaila McCalla could not be contacted for comment.

POLICE NOT TO BLAME

The police commissioner's worries come against the background of public debate about the collapse of a number of high-public-interest cases and the country's escalating murder rate. A total of 628 persons have been killed since the start of the year, including 136 last month.

Quallo, seeking to underscore his concerns, cited two cases of murder - one of them a triple homicide - that he said have been before the courts since 2005 and 2006, respectively.

According to law-enforcement sources, the 2006 case cited by Quallo involved two men who were arrested and charged in connection with a triple murder in one of Kingston's inner-city communities.

The commissioner revealed that three police investigators who worked on the case have already retired, while another is deceased.

In the other case, he said the accused was formally charged by Assistant Commissioner Derrick Knight, who was a deputy superintendent at the time.

"Am I to understand that all of us are not concerned about that?" he questioned.

The police chief, however, defended his investigators, pointing out that in recent times, the Jamaica Constabulary Force has been commended for the quality of the cases presented before the courts.

"We always try to put our cases together. It's an ongoing process where we try to sharpen the skills of our investigators," he insisted.

livern.barrett@gleanerjm.com