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EDITORIAL - More than an audit, Mr Hinds

Published:Friday | August 15, 2014 | 8:00 AM

Glenmore Hinds, the acting police chief, can't be right. He told this newspaper that his deputy with responsibility for administration gets daily returns on the persons in police lock-ups, and claims that these reports are "scrutinised meticulously to ensure that those in custody are properly" there, and, if not, ensure that "steps are taken to remove them from custody".

For if Mr Hinds were right, the case of Gregory Lumsden couldn't have persisted for so long. Nor would one of the men charged for the murder of Mario Deane been in the cell with him. And there are too many cases like these.

The Deane and Lumsden cases have a common thread. Both young men were arrested for possession of small amounts of marijuana - an offence for which the national security minister has now directed the police to proceed by way of summons, rather than arrest until the passage of legislation to decriminalise ganja use. We support that decision, but urge the speedy change to the law.

The cases, though, underline a far deeper problem with the administration of justice in Jamaica and how the system, largely, discriminates against the mostly poor and often semi-literate young men, who account for the bulk of the persons who find themselves in conflict with the law.

It stretches our comprehension that at a relatively large police station, in the island's second largest city, there was sufficient time for someone to be as badly beaten as Mr Deane obviously was, before the intervention of constables. We look forward to the explanations for what, on the face of it, would be a serious dereliction of responsibility by the officers at the station and, in that regard, the outcome of the investigation by INDECOM, the agency that probes police misconduct.

It is important, too, for the deputy commissioner of police in charge of administration to say what might have gone so wrong with his meticulous scrutiny of the daily reports on persons in police jails, that he missed the fact that one of the men who would be eventually accused of Mr Deane's death was in need of psychiatric evaluation and should, therefore, not have been in that lock-up.

Shocking case

Then there is the shocking case of Mr Lumsden who was freed in the Morant Bay Resident Magistrate's Court this week after being held for two months in a police jail. He was arrested for a half-burnt marijuana cigarette, which police found at his home during a search whose legitimacy is doubtful. During his period of incarceration, Mr Lumsden was not allowed to contact anyone.

Under Section 14 (2)(a) of the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms, an arrested person has the right to communicate with family members, or other similar persons, and at 14 (2)(d) "communicate with and retain an attorney-at-law", while at 16 (1) he has the right to "a fair hearing within a reasonable time".

Maybe Mr Lumsden's name and circumstance didn't appear on any of the carefully scrutinised lists received daily by the deputy police commissioner for administration. Clearly, this is not a problem that can only be solved by audits of lock-ups. It is one of culture and needs comprehensive work to change. The Office of the Public Defender can help if it takes up and aggressively pursues these cases.

The opinions on this page, except for the above, do not necessarily reflect the views of The Gleaner. To respond to a Gleaner editorial, email us: editor@gleanerjm.com or fax: 922-6223. Responses should be no longer than 400 words. Not all responses will be published.