Fourth Floor | When the DPP gets a black eye
Public perception of how the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) is functioning can have a significant impact on crime and the level of public support for law-enforcement efforts.
The recent collapse of certain high-profile cases may have earned a black eye for that office, even though cases fall apart for a variety of reasons. Perhaps criticisms have been placed at the feet of the DPP because it is the prosecutor who ultimately decides whether a case goes forward.
Every time a high-profile criminal case collapses, it shakes people's faith in public institutions and raises questions about the integrity of the judicial process.
Understanding the intense public interest in these matters, Fourth Floor recently created a platform for the issues to be ventilated.
"Everyone in the criminal justice system can do better, and I think everyone wants to do better," declared Adley Duncan, one of the shining lights in the DPP's office.
Prosecutors are overworked and the DPP's office understaffed. There was a time when private lawyers were retained by the DPP and issued a fiat to prosecute cases. That intervention lightened the load of prosecutors to an appreciable extent. However, because of a resource deficit, this was discontinued.
The eminent persons gathered at the Fourth Floor had a number of suggestions that they believe can create greater efficiencies in the administration of justice.
Duncan mentioned new approaches that he observed in the United Kingdom while studying there. "One of the things under their Police Criminal Evidence Act is the possibility of police officers issuing caution for offences.
"The police in the UK can issue caution, so it goes on your record or not, depending on the circumstances. But it's dealt with outside of the court process and I think we need to look in that direction," Duncan said.
When did the idea of issuing summonses become passÈ?
'Criminals have to be caught, tried and convicted'
Esteemed Queen's Counsel Frank Phipps posed the question: "If you have to arrest a man on suspicion, why bring him to court before the case is ready? Why not have him report to the police station?"
The current practice is that individuals are brought to court multiple times for their cases to be mentioned and put off to another time. Under this system, an accused person could attend court more than a dozen times before the case gets to the trial stage. This could take years - literally.
In courtrooms across Jamaica, many hours of the day are taken up with the tedium of simply setting new mention dates and remanding prisoners. Phipps dismissed this practice as a waste of time.
For his part, Hugh Wildman feels that senior attorneys could be asked to help put a dent in the pile-up of cases in the Parish Court. "Say to these senior attorneys, in the nights or weekends, look at these cases and you can determine the issues and you can pass appropriate sentences, too. It's not a situation that they are in custody and you can create a significant inroad into this mountain of cases in the RM Courts (Parish Courts) where people are coming repeatedly."
He said that this was currently being done in the United Kingdom.
Participants strongly supported the notion of community-based justice. "We have historical precedence for this. In other countries, they have lots of matters dealt with outside of the formal court process ... . Not every single matter needs to come to court," said Duncan. For this approach to work, he envisions inputs from civil-society actors, the private sector and churches through mechanisms such as mediation and restorative justice.
Continuing the theme of community involvement in fighting crime, Phipps remarked, "Each com-munity is responsible primarily for its own protection." For this reason, he feels crime solutions ought to involve key community figures like custodes, JPs and, of course, the citizens who invariably know the offenders. This strategy anticipates changes in the attitudes of both citizens and the police.
He asked, "So how do we train both the citizens in the community, on the one hand, and the police, to realise that they are working for the same accord?"
Phipps also raised the matter of compensation for victims of crime. But he acknowledged that to get to that stage, criminals have to be caught, tried and convicted.