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LETTER OF THE DAY - Jamaica need not embrace all things foreign

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

THE EDITOR, Sir:

The recent statement attributed to the United States-based attorney-at-law Jasmine Rand that the Mario Deane's case is bigger than the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) and that the Government of Jamaica should specifically oversee the investigation is unfortunate.

Quite apart from demonstrating a complete lack of understanding of the mandate of INDECOM and our Westminster system of government, the statement is demonstrative of a perennial problem that exists with many post-Colonial states within this hemisphere. That is, an addiction to importing foreign ideas, persons or systems to address problems within our State which oftentimes are neither practicable nor adaptive to meeting the challenges of our own problems.

The habit of wanting to embrace all things foreign as the ultimate solution to our problem must be curbed. Indeed, recent suggestions by certain stakeholders within the justice system that the right of an accused to give an unsworn statement (as opposed to giving sworn evidence and being subject to be cross-examined) be abolished, is another painful example of this habit.

Those who argue for the abolition of the unsworn statement are quick to argue that if an accused has nothing to hide, then he or she should not fear giving evidence and being subjected to questions by way of cross-examination. As if and in an effort to put the issue beyond doubt, these pro abolitionist refer to the fact that in many other foreign jurisdictions the unsworn statement is a thing of the past. However, they fail to recognise that in such jurisdictions the literacy rate amongst those populations is extremely high. This certainly is not the case in Jamaica. A vast majority of those who face the courts as accused are either illiterate or semi-literate and as such are unable to express themselves in a coherent manner.

INNOVATIVE SOLUTIONS

Until there is a marked improvement in our literacy rate, one should not disturb the right of an accused to give an unsworn statement. That it hardly exists elsewhere without more is a shallow argument for its abolition. As a society, it is high time that we maintain those systems that are best conducive to our situation and find innovative ways of our own to improve upon those that are found wanting.

That having been said, let it not be taken that we are above external assistance or criticism. In the words of Sir Winston Churchill, "Criticism may not be agreeable but it is necessary. It fulfils the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things."

Peter Champagnie

Attorney-at-Law