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Missing witnesses pressure cops

Published:Thursday | November 8, 2018 | 12:00 AMCorey Robinson

Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) investigators are spending thousands of hours hunting down key witnesses in cases before the courts.

The cops have spent the time visiting last known addresses, quizzing associates, and scouring morgues, hospitals and other areas to find these witnesses.

The Corporate Communications Unit (CCU) has published notices in the media trying to find more than 120 witnesses needed to attend court since the start of the year.

This is just 15 fewer than the number of missing witnesses' appeals issued for all of 2017.

Head of the CCU, Assistant Superintendent Dahlia Garrick, said her office usually gets involved after all other measures have been exhausted to the find the witnesses.

"Sometimes we receive requests directly from the courts, but sometimes our investigators will come and put in a request. We have some basic information that must be captured: name, last known addresses ... and that is used to formulate the bulletin," Garrick told The Sunday Gleaner.




She said each bulletin is published at least three times in the electronic and print media before the next court date. The bulletin is also placed on the JCF's social media outlets.

According to Garrick, all publications are logged to demonstrate to the courts that every effort had been made to contact the witnesses who are needed for trials.

"The bulletin then becomes a part of the court file," added Garrick.

Head of the Criminal Investigations Branch, Acting Assistant Commissioner of Police McArthur Sutherland, last week rejected the claim that the police are lackadaisical in their efforts to locate witnesses.

"Witnesses, and evidence from witnesses, will always be important factors to our investigation, even though we are living in a society where the reliance on eyewitnesses is waning," said Sutherland.

He told The Sunday Gleaner that it takes painstaking effort to find persons ordered to turn up to court.

According to Sutherland, after all addresses on file, as well as those police probes would have indicated are associated with the witness are visited, investigators then check institutions.

"We have to now move it higher to determine whether or not the person would have been missing. We have to look at missing persons' reports and records," added Sutherland, as he pointed to Jamaicans' general discomfort of courthouses and the justice system.

"Having done all of that, if it is that the witness is here or abroad, we use the electronic and print media to publicise the need for the witness to get in contact with the investigator or the police.

"We also engage the Passport, Immigration and Citizenship Agency to determine whether or not the person would have left the island," added Sutherland.

Assistant Director of Public Prosecutions Larona Montague-Williams could not say what percentage of the witnesses turn up to the courts after the police issue a public request for them to make contact.

She explained, that in many cases a request is made for a 'paper trial' when the witness cannot be found.

"Meaning, the witness, instead of giving the evidence in court, we proceed with the matter and their evidence is admitted into court via their statement or the deposition from the preliminary enquiry," said Montague-Williams.

"As part of that application process we have to show that the Crown has done everything possible to secure the attendance of the witness," added Montague-Williams.