Where's the justice in that, Minister?
Bianca Bartley, GUEST COLUMNIST
I write regarding a story posted on The Gleaner's website on Friday, October 24, titled 'Gov't wants cases not tried after two years automatically dismissed', in which Senator Mark Golding cited various reasons on behalf of the Government as to why it purports for this move.
The first reason put forward was to help reduce the backlog of cases. It went on to add that Mr Golding noted 'that under the law, persons are guaranteed a right to trial within a reasonable time'.
Forgive me, Mr Golding, but I was not aware that the main mission of our justice ministry was to throw out cases that are relatively young in comparison to many matters pending for years for serious matters in our courts and, instead, wipe the slate clean.
Being shocked at this statement by Mr Golding - having assumed that our legal system was to ensure that each man has a right to a fair trial for crimes brought against him - I went to the justice ministry's website to see exactly what its mission statement was.
"In partnership with all other stakeholders
Ensure that Jamaica is a just and law-abiding society with an accessible, efficient and fair system of justice for all.
Promote respect for rights and freedoms, the law and the Constitution and an awareness of the individual responsibilities and civil obligations."
I saw nothing of time mentioned here. Having studied criminology at the University of the West Indies, I knew all too well that deterrents of crime included not only the severity, but also the celerity of punishment. The theory states that the quicker the punishment is meted out and carried through, the better it would be as an example to deter other criminals from committing like acts.
Now, if the time it takes to mete out the punishment sways one's fear or respect for the judicial system, how will it be viewed now, if the criminals see a system that throws out cases at will?
I am outraged at Mr Golding and the stakeholders in this policy shift.
In February 2012, a cybercrime was committed against me and various other females, as well the wider public - 99.9 per cent of whom are unaware of the additional criminal acts committed by this individual, as the findings have still not been made public knowledge. Private images of me were illegally obtained from my personal email and uploaded on to various blog sites, along with not only my name but also that of my business.
It was not until April of the following year that charges were brought against the individual, who was granted bail. I have since then appeared in court under subpoena on two occasions, awaiting the trial to begin. However, each time, the matter is simply 'mentioned' and reasons and excuses given by the clerk of court as to why the matter cannot proceed, which stem from their office itself.
WHAT IS 'REASONABLE TIME'?
I do not know exactly what 'reasonable time' is, or what deadline there is that dictates when justice should prevail, though I do acknowledge that, I believe the time I have waited so far is unreasonable. However, I believe it is more unreasonable for so many of us who are going through the 'system' and investing our efforts to have all come to naught. What about the rights of the victims?
Upon my last visit to court in September, I sat in the same courtroom with Adidja Palmer, more popularly known as Vybz Kartel, and shook my head at the manner in which 'high-profile' matters such as these are dealt with, grabbing all the media attention, with very little light left to be shed on other serious criminal cases.
Have you ever heard of me? Bianca Bartley? Or know to which case I refer my involvement in? I'm sure more than half of you who are reading this have never. Does it not then make you wonder what other pending cases there are in existence now, before the courts, many of which I am sure involve many government officials themselves and other 'high-profile' members of our society, that, thanks to Mr Golding and the justice ministry, will now go untried? How many hundreds and thousands of victims of exploitation, murder, rape, robbery, assault and other heinous acts will not get justice if this policy is, in fact, passed? Some people must be thanking God they got their $20 million settlement before this goes through!
Mr Golding, according to the report, said 'the current system is unsatisfactory, as there are a number of pending cases before the courts for years which have not been tried'.
This behaviour of the Government and its elected officials - to discard a problem instead of assessing and solving the root cause of these issues - seems like it will never stop.
It seems to me as if the real aim of trying to wipe the slate clean is to aid their grossly overworked, uninterested and underpaid members of staff who work on and represent Regina.
Mr Golding, I fully agree with you - the current situation is, in fact, unsatisfactory: your courtrooms, bursting at their seams, are too few in number, filled with too many in number, which sadly include victims who are represented by dismissive clerks of court weighted down by their log books filled to the hilt with dates booked for 'more important matters'. Matters such as the spliff cases, stolen intellectual property and other crimes, whose verdict I sit and watch meted out in minutes before me as I sit for hours awaiting my case to be mentioned, and seem to take precedence over my own. When my case is finally called, it is only to be treated like a football in a silly game of after-school scrimmage where I sit on the sidelines watching the bully win.
I wonder to myself who the 'stake-holders' of this policy to whom Mr Golding refers are and exactly what is the self-serving interest behind such an initiative. I wonder how many of them themselves have cases under the hush, not yet leaked because too many light bulbs would go off in the public's mind that would make us question this 'house-cleaning' move by the Government.
'Serious crimes such as non-capital murder, firearm-related offences and various sexual offences, including rape, could benefit from the new laws aimed at giving discounted sentences,' the Gleaner report read.
I do not know what reformation there will be for men who commit acts of rape whose cases will be thrown out or dismissed, or what hope there will be for the women of our country who reside in communities alongside these criminals who will continue to be sexual plagues.
The justice ministry's pending policy is a slap in the face to many victims, including me, who have suffered for years while still trying to work with the very system to bring criminals to justice. Exploitation in any form is wrong and here our Government seems to add a sick stroke of horror in favour of the accused offenders, many of whom now stand the chance of going unpunished for their criminal acts.
But what I keep wondering more is what the Government is REALLY trying to throw out.
I have personally endured two years of continuous psychological, emotional, social and financial damage. Had I not initially gone to the police anti-corruption arm with claims against the Jamaica Constabulary Force - for lack of action in arresting the offender in my case, in the face of having solid information as to his identity and whereabouts - I wonder if they would have even arrested him, or how much longer they would have waited while other women like me continued to be blackmailed and further exploited.