Jermaine Francis, Staff Reporter
The Ministry of National Security could soon be forking out millions of dollars to provide legal support to police officers brought before the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM).
In the latest Force Orders issued on Thursday, Commissioner of Police Owen Ellington said the security ministry had guaranteed that the police would have access to funds to cover the legal fees for officers under investigation.
"We have been assured of financial support from the Ministry of National Security to offset the cost of legal representation to members who are the subject of INDECOM investigations and we want to ensure that the support is made available to you," the commissioner's statement read.
Ellington added: "It is unacceptable for you to be putting your lives on the line daily to protect the population and then having to expend your thin wages, to pay for legal representations when your actions are being investigated."
However, the number of cases reported to INDECOM annually could see the Ministry of National Security paying out millions in legal fees for police officers.
$150,000 in legal costs
A member of the police force recently told The Gleaner that he paid $150,000 in legal costs to appear before INDECOM, and defence attorney Peter Champagnie agreed that this figure was not unusual, in such matters.
Champagnie noted that the cost would vary depending on whether the officer was being called before INDECOM as a witness or an accused.
"The fees would be subjected to or dependent on the officer being a suspect or a witness, the cost would be varied. But it can be a costly exercise," Champagnie said.
Judging by the more than 200 reports INDECOM said it had issued since its inception in August 2010, and using the ballpark figure of $150,000, the security ministry would have paid out an estimated $30 million in legal fees over the last three years.
Earlier this week, National Security Minister Peter Bunting indicated that he was ready to propose that the regulations, which currently bar the Government from providing legal funding to members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force, be changed.
However, Champagnie suggested that the security ministry should consider expanding the legal-aid system and offering the services to those officers in need.
"Putting more resources in the legal-aid clinic and extending the services to the force would be a much better idea," Champagnie noted.