The recent police station scandal in Westmoreland which saw a policewoman being injured when she slipped through rotting floorboards has renewed calls for something to be done about the ramshackle state of justice institutions throughout the country.
While the injuries sustained by the policewoman highlighted the dangerous conditions under which the men and women of the security forces are serving, this is not an isolated incident. Let's not forget that many of our courthouses have also fallen into disrepair and are facing decaying infrastructure, overcrowding, and a lack of proper sanitary facilities. Many years ago, a resident magistrate was hurt in similar fashion while sitting on the bench, also in that western parish.
Structures which were built in the 1800s are currently being used in the 21st century without the requisite upgrades and maintenance over the years. From time to time, frustrated staffers have taken their plight to the media, complaining about the unsafe, unhealthy and dangerous conditions under which they work. Usually, a Band-Aid solution is applied after each of these episodes. However, there has generally been a tendency towards masterful inaction by all our governments.
Successive political administrations have acknowledged the urgent need to replace, repair or upgrade many of these courthouses and police stations. However, there is never enough money to do that work. They have failed to support justice institutions so that they have the capability to better serve the people of this country.
AN UNJUST STATE OF AFFAIRS
Staff, including judges and police personnel, deserve to have a safe and fitting environment in which to carry out their work. For instance, people who do business in the courts find there is really no separation between prisoners, police, jurors and witnesses. This is a most undesirable state of affairs.
That so many core justice institutions, including the judiciary, police and correctional services, have been neglected over the years is a good indication of where Government's priorities rest. One cannot help thinking that justice is the last thing on the administration's mind when it comes to finding funds.
Disrespect reigns in this society, and it is manifestly clear that there is diminishing respect for law, authority and human life. This state of affairs is often seen in societies emerging from conflict and crisis. It is not usually the characteristic of a so-called stable democracy which has been independent for more than 50 years.
It is, therefore, crucial that new formulae be found for strengthening respect for the rule of law because only then can we achieve a peaceful society. We need strong, robust justice institutions to achieve this, but we need something else: strong political will. If our leaders recognise that the weakening of justice institutions will condemn Jamaica to wretchedness, they need to start pointing out to their international partners and funders that we must move speedily to make sustainable investments in justice.
It is no good to hear that designs exist for new facilities in St Ann, Montego Bay and Mandeville. Justice, peace and democracy are interdependent. We urge the ministers of justice and national security to make 2014 the year in which they will pay attention to the nation's justice institutions, with the resolve to fix the worst ones.
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