Frank Phipps, Contributor
Recently, I met with Elizabeth Mullings-Smith of Maya Blue Ltd, a United Kingdom-based sustainable development company. She is introducing the company's plan to improve the use of forensic science to investigate and control crime that has a crippling effect on the country's economy.
With the financial crunch facing the country, we must look at every possible way to hold up the economy. Elizabeth points to the World Bank's 2011 World Development Report, dubbed Con-flict, Security and Development, which includes Jamaica among the countries where growth is being stymied by crime.
The World Bank estimates that crime and violence costs Jamaica more than US$400 million (J$34 billion) each year. According to the World Bank, the direct medical cost of all interpersonal violence in Jamaica is estimated at US$29.5 million, while the indirect medical cost is US$385 million.
It argued that the indirect cost associated with crime and violence, stress and trauma, time off from work because of violent incidents, and lower productivity from injury or mental illness far overshadows direct costs. When other indirect costs are added, such as those for policing, health care, private security, and reduced investment, the figures are even more staggering, the report added.
In addition, the direct cost of crime is 3.7 per cent of GDP and the indirect cost is 14 per cent. The problem is not confined to Jamaica; it also has a deleterious effect on other Caribbean countries.
A report titled Drastic Action Needed to Deal with Regional Crime, says Bissessar (Gleaner, February 18, 2013) stated:
"Crime and security is a major item to be considered by the leaders and a CARICOM Secretariat statement said the "discussions will be taking place against a backdrop of high levels of crime in many of the member states with the use of firearms being of particular concern."
The report details how the high levels of crime and violence in the Caribbean have short-term impact on human welfare and long-term impact on economic growth and social development. The insecurity caused by crime has a detrimental effect on trade, tourism, inward investment, business operations and production costs that, ultimately, hinders growth and development. This could hasten a collapse of the economies.
Programmes implemented as necessary for reform to shore up the economies have exacerbated the problem. They have triggered a massive spike in unemployment, underemployment and an overall decline in outlook when there is perceived easy money in the drug trade and Internet scams.
Availability of illegal firearms
This dangerous combination is a recipe for corruption; it increases and embeds violence in communities, undermines social cohesion, and contributes to the widespread availability of illegal firearms in the region. The situation presents a massive challenge for the police in investigating crime and the subsequent prosecution and conviction of offenders and, just as important, to vindicate the innocent.
In Jamaica, The Gleaner reports (February 8, 2013) the frustration of agents of the State when dealing with the problem:
The Bureau of Special Investigations (BSI) says it continues to be hamstrung by the slow pace at which forensic and ballistic certificates are produced. With investigations into at least 485 cases completed, some as far back as 2002, the BSI said the receipt of certification is the only thing preventing the files being sent to the director of public prosecutions for consideration.
The forensic capability of the Jamaica Constabulary Force was among several issues raised by former Assistant Commissioner Les Green during an interview with British newspaper The Mirror a week ago. Green was quoted as saying that when he first arrived in Jamaica, the forensic capability was very poor and ineffective. He was further quoted as saying that in Jamaica, it still takes up to two years to get DNA results, unlike in the United Kingdom where these documents could be obtain in two days.
The frustration spills over to the courts, where already the backlog of cases is overwhelming the administration and delay is endemic.
The clog in the criminal justice system is not new or unique to Jamaica. The UK suffered a similar dilemma in the 1980s and '90s where neither investigators nor the courts had the forensic support they needed.
The UK overcame its problems by creating an environment that allowed private companies to provide forensic services in addition to those from the government's laboratory. This allows for healthy competition and investment, which quickly resulted in elimination of backlogs, reduced costs, more timely services, and improved quality and modernisation. This, in turn, led to the unravelling of many of the UK's most complex previously unsolved cases.
The main individual inspiring change in the UK to overcome the challenges was Professor Angela Gallop, one of the world's leading forensic scientists. Professor Gallop is known for setting up and running highly successful full-scale forensic laboratories and for personally leading the scientific teams that solved most of the high-profile unsolved murder cases in London, including the racially inspired murder of 16-year-old Stephen Lawrence (Stephen's parents are Jamaican and they brought his body home for burial in Jamaica).
What is of immediate interest for Jamaica is that Professor Gallop is now CEO of Axiom International, a forensic science laboratory that was specifically established under the chairmanship of Lord John Stevens, former commissioner for the London Metropolitan Police, to help overcome forensic science difficulties in other countries around the world.
Elizabeth Mullings-Smith has engineered a partnership with Axiom International to put in place a privately owned forensic service provider as part of the plan for Jamaica and the wider Caribbean.
Mullings-Smith is an internationally known project designer who has recognised the need to improve the forensic capability in Jamaica by the provision of a professional service focused on accurate and timely delivery of results. Elizabeth is a Jamaican Commonwealth scholar who is well qualified to present a plan for improvement in this area of concern.
She started her professional career with Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica after graduating from University of the West Indies and progressed to solving challenges in complex engineering and business development for programmes for change in sensitive contract environments. She has worked successfully in Europe (including as strategic adviser to the programme management team for the London 2012 Olympics), in Africa and in the Middle East, while maintaining her interest and commitment to Jamaica.
Mullings-Smith believes that a new approach to forensic science in Jamaica could be a positive deterrent to crime, a catalyst for change and a conduit for inward investment and economic development. She recommends the acceptance of the proposal for a private forensic service provider, locally owned and managed, to supplement the existing services.
An effective way to limit the fallout from the present unsatisfactory service and reduce the price the country pays for crime is to guarantee a timely delivery of results, prepared by independent and impartial forensic scientists at a laboratory accredited to international standards and available to both public and private interests.
Most important, such a change in forensic capabilities will serve to restore confidence in the police and retain assurance in the judicial system to curtail the pervasive and devastating evil effect of crime on the nation. Moreover, this helps to repair the torn social fabric of the nation, with added benefit to our economy. The provision of new equipment in a relabelled arrangement will be pouring new wine into old wineskins.
It is relevant to know that forensic science, in its unadulterated form, is the exclusive application of science and technology for matters of the law. In practice, forensic science is concerned with the recognition, identification, individualisation, and evaluation of physical evidence, which may be transient, displaced, patterned, conditional, and original or transferred.
This requires experience in the field, the lab and the court. The forensic scientist aims to recreate the activities associated with the scene of a crime, ultimately to present such findings in court as evidence that can stand up to cross-examination. The cognitive skills of a good forensic scientist differs from those of a good scientific analyst. It is these nuances that provide the value added within a forensic laboratory.
Criminal justice today places greater reliance on scientific evidence than the testimony of eyewitnesses; and reduces the need for reluctant witnesses to attend court.
The Maya Blue Ltd plan for a privately owned forensic service provider in Jamaica could go a far way to fill the gap in solving Jamaica's crime problem. These plans are well advanced, which means that, provided there is the acceptance for the change, the service could be established in a relatively short time frame.
This would be a major step on the road for justice and a welcome respite for our overstressed economy.
Frank M. Phipps, QC, is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.