Wed | Jun 3, 2020

Response to sexual assault cases pleases Canada's high commissioner

Published:Thursday | December 28, 2017 | 12:00 AM
Candian High Commissioner Laurie Peters
Chief Justice Zaila McCalla

Canada's High Commissioner to Jamaica, Laurie Peters, says that she is heartened by the progress made in improving the local justice system's response to the incidence of sexual assault and the treatment of survivors.

She cites legal stipulations restricting defence attorneys from using the backgrounds of complainants and survivors to question their credibility in trial proceedings and the holding of in-camera hearings for all sexual assault cases, including those involving children, among the notable achievements.

Other key gains highlighted by Peters include the introduction of a criminal bench book to better aid judges in directing juries during trials and the establishment of the Centre for the Investigation of Sexual Offences and Child Abuse, which, she notes, "has been doing a very good job in improving the investigative and support services provided to complainants".

The high commissioner was speaking at the recent launch of the Model Guidelines for Sexual Offence Cases in the Caribbean Region, at The Jamaica Pegasus hotel in New Kingston.

While acknowledging CARICOM countries' progress in promoting gender equality, Peters said that sexual violence perpetrated against boys, girls, and women remained a "significant problem".

Peters cited a 2016 Inter-American Development Bank-funded report on crime and violence in Jamaica, which indicated that almost 60 per cent of all sexual assault victims were girls aged 10 to 19. Further, that almost 50 per cent of women were forced into sexual relationships by age 20.

The high commissioner said that against the background of this and other "sobering" statistics, the development and introduction of the Model Guidelines for Sexual Offence Cases in the Caribbean document represented a significant milestone for Jamaica and the wider region.


International guidelines


"These guidelines provide internationally accepted best practices in the management of sexual offence cases. They provide very important guidance to justice-sector stakeholders involved in the reporting, investigation, prosecution and adjudication of sexual offences. Additionally, they provide a rights-based approach to the treatment of complainants and vulnerable witnesses, including children, who are involved in sexual assault cases," Peters added.

She expressed the hope that the guidelines would be adopted by regional countries "and that their implementation will result in a variety of outcomes, including speedy adjudication of cases and reduction of case backlogs, over time".

...Judges see new way of dealing with children in the justice system

Chief Justice Zaila McCalla is expressing gratitude to the United Nations Children's Fund and other international partners for assisting with the sensitisation and training of judges in adjudicating cases involving children, whether as witnesses, victims, or offenders.

McCalla further thanked the justice ministry's Victim Services Division (formerly Victim Support Unit) for their involvement, noting that a session organised for judges "opened our eyes and informed us that there must be a new way of dealing with children in our justice system".

The Model Guidelines for Sexual Offence Cases in the Caribbean Region was launched in tandem with the Jamaican judiciary under the CDN$90-million Judicial Reform and Institutional Strengthening Project, which is being funded by the Government of Canada and administered under Global Affairs Canada.

The multiyear project is being implemented by the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) on behalf of the Conference of the Heads of Judiciary of CARICOM. The CCJ and other regional partners are contributing $4 million to the initiative. Global Affairs Canada is the department that manages Canada's diplomatic and consular relations and leads the country's international development and humanitarian assistance programmes.