Gary Spaulding, Senior Gleaner Writer
If Minister Mark Golding gets his way in the impending debate on the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) Act, the investigative agency would be empowered to circumvent the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions in its probe of alleged police excesses.
Golding on Wednesday came out in support of more potent weaponry to be added to INDECOM's arsenal, as the Government prepares to revise the law.
In so doing, the justice minister argued in favour of the conferring of prosecutorial remit to strengthen INDECOM.
Under such an arrangement, INDECOM would be empowered to initiate and conduct investigations on allegations of excesses by police and officers, without having to submit its report for consideration by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).
Golding made the disclosure at an INDECOM Commissioner's forum at the University of the West Indies, Mona campus.
He argued that this would reduce the delays in the completion of cases, as the DPP has its hands full.
The justice minister, however, told The Gleaner in a subsequent interview that other contending views would have to be considered when the law comes up for review, which is expected to take place in short order.
"It's a personal view that I hold that INDECOM's effectiveness as an agency would be increased if it has the power to see its cases through rather than having to rely on the DPP to take those on board," he told The Gleaner.
Noting that the DPP has a "very wide remit," Golding described that agency's burden as "considerable" in the regular prosecutorial services that it provides, a sentiment shared by political scientist Trevor Munroe.
"But I recognise that there are other views as well, so when the Parliament comes to reviewing the INDECOM Act, this is one of the issues that will have to be discussed and fleshed out, because there are other views that would have to be taken into account as well," said Golding.
Head of INDECOM, Terrence Williams earlier suggested that one of the challenges confronting his organisation was its reliance on the DPP for a ruling on each case that is probed by the team.
Golding told The Gleaner that he intends to hold discussions with Clerk to the Houses of Parliament Heather Cooke to set a date for the review of the legislation. Under the INDECOM Act, a revision of the law has to be carried out within a three-year period. The bill was passed in August 2010.
Opposition to proposal
Andrew Johnson, a senior police officer who attended the forum, warned that conferring more powers, including prosecutorial remit, on INDECOM, could erode the Constitutional rights of officers under investigations.
Williams, however, argued that INDECOM would not be treated as a judge who presides over court cases and, therefore, could not overstep its bounds. "It would have as much power as a commission of enquiry has," he argued.
INDECOM and the statute governing its mandate have been dragged before the court since it came into existence.
The Constitutional Court in May dismissed a motion brought by eight policemen who were contending that INDECOM did not have the power to compel them to give statements in relation to a fatal shooting.
However, INDECOM remains without the authority to prosecute the cases it probes.
INDECOM is currently operating at two thirds of its maximum capacity with an investigative complement of 55 out of the required 80, with 20 administrative personnel.
In endorsing Golding's sentiment that the Office of the DPP was overburdened, Munroe expressed the view that the Constitutional arrangements under which the DPP falls are in urgent need of reconfiguration. "There is no way that a single office can carry out such a workload," Munroe declared.
Golding agreed. "I am of the view that there is a place for certain agencies to be conferred with the powers to prosecute the cases that they investigate, because I think it would lead to a more effective carrying out of their mandate."
The DPP has under its remit prosecutorial powers from about 12 public-sector bodies.