Mon | Aug 21, 2017

We trust INDECOM

Published:Wednesday | September 3, 2014 | 9:00 AM

We believe that Jasmine Rand's advocacy in the Mario Deane case is well intentioned. But the American lawyer runs the risk of being contemptuous of due process and of undermining a fledgling Jamaican institution that is gaining a deserved reputation for holding errant law-enforcement agents to account.

Mario Deane was the young man who was arrested for a marijuana cigarette and held in a Montego Bay lock-up, where he was badly beaten, ostensibly by fellow detainees. He died of his injuries.

Mr Deane's treatment triggered public outcry, including by this newspaper, leading to new policy for how the police keep people in lock-ups and the process for the prosecution of persons arrested for minor offences like possession of a small amount of ganja.

MILD SUCCESS

Cases like Mario Deane's, those involving misbehaviour - including excessive use of force by the police and military - are investigated by INDECOM, an independent agency established four years ago, after the futility of several attempts to have the constabulary properly police itself became apparent.

Since 2010, INDECOM, headed by Terrence Williams, has investigated more than 2,000 and has brought more than 80 persons before the courts, where the process has, admittedly, been slow. It was only recently that it gained its first convictions - the fining of police officers for failing to provide statements to INDECOM investigators.

However, Mr Williams' doggedness has led to the court's upholding of INDECOM's power of arrest and prosecution. Further, this newspaper believes that a 40 per cent decline in police homicides last year was due in no small measure to the activism of INDECOM. Police officers are increasingly concluding that they can no longer behave with impunity; they are likely to be called to account.

none above indecom

It is partially against this backdrop that Ms Rand has entered the case and against which we note her declaration: "So, whoever is above INDECOM, it's their responsibility to step in at this point and ensure that the process is fair." Except that there is no one above INDECOM, which is an independent commission of Parliament.

Indeed, section 5 of the act that established the agency made clear that subject only to the provisions of the Constitution (the right of the director of public prosecutions) to discontinue prosecutions, INDECOM, "in the exercise of its powers ... shall not be subject to the direction or to the control of any other person or authority". The commissioner can only be removed from office based on the finding of a tribunal of judges and former judges after a case has been referred to them.

The point is that INDECOM is a relatively well-insulated agency that has shown grit and increasingly is gaining the confidence of the Jamaican people. This, of course, does not obviate the need for, or the right of, independent voices like Ms Rand's, advocating for human rights on behalf of persons like Mario Deane or Trayvon Martin, the unarmed black Florida teenager who was shot dead by a vigilante, and in whose case she was involved. It is one thing to insist that the Jamaican Government live up to its human-rights obligations. It is quite another to question the competence or integrity and independence of Mr Williams and his team at INDECOM.