Ambassador promises aid for overwhelmed courts
WITH JAMAICA'S judicial system buckling under a chronic backlog of cases, the United States has stepped in with a rescue plan designed to improve the overall administration of the system.
United States Ambassador to Jamaica Pamela Bridgewater gave the commitment while addressing the St James Police Civic Committee Jamaica 50th anniversary Independence ball at the Montego Bay Convention Centre on Saturday.
Bridgewater said those persons working in criminal courts are often ill-equipped, understaffed and overwhelmed, but given Jamaica's fiscal challenges, increase in personnel to tackle the problem is unlikely, arguing that her country could help.
"The United States, for example, will provide equipment for courts and training prosecutors that will allow them to work more efficiently and effectively. Relatively small investments in training advisers ... and digital court reporting equipment can yield good dividends."
Bridgewater said the backlog of case and trial postponements contribute to impunity for many of the worst criminal offenders and gangs, an abnormally low rate of violent crime convictions, lack of cooperation by witnesses, frustration among police officers and prosecutors, judges and the public.
"This comes at significant social cost, drain on the economy and disincentive for tourist and international investment."
use of plea-bargaining
She said, however, that the United States was encouraged by the Jamaican Government's steps to reduce the backlog by exploring ways to increase the use of plea-bargaining in the local court system.
"You will be pleased to know that last month, approximately 100 judges, magistrates, prosecutors, defence attorneys, police officers and government leaders, including (security) Minister Peter Bunting, Minister Mark Golding, Chief Justice Zaila McCalla and Commissioner Owen Ellington spent a Saturday exploring ways to make Jamaica's plea-bargaining system work better. A United States prosecutor facilitated this workshop."
Ambassador Bridgewater said despite the challenges of the judicial system, she was encouraged by the Government's progress in its battle against corruption with the passage of key anti-corruption laws and the establishment of the office of the Contractor General.
Ambassador Bridgewater also commended Ellington, citing that under his leadership, the police rid a number of corrupt cops from the force.
"I am happy to report that under the leadership of Commissioner Ellington, the JCF's Anti-Corruption Branch has identified and removed officers engaged in corrupt and unethical behaviour: since 2007 when it started, more than 400 JCF officers have been dismissed for corruption or ethical violations."
She also announced that the United States has cranked up its fight against the pervasive lotto scam by funding the establishment of an office of the Anti-Corruption Branch in St James.