Mon | Aug 8, 2022

Probe to get under way into leaked Barnett video

Published:Tuesday | July 5, 2022 | 12:11 AM

An investigation is to be launched following the unauthorised release of a video in which murder accused Rushane Barnett is being examined by four justices of the peace (JPs), including a medical doctor, the Ministry of Justice has said.

Barnett, 23, has been charged with five counts of murder after slaying a mother and her four children in Cocoa Piece, Clarendon, two weeks ago.

He is a cousin of the victims.

In a press statement issued on Monday, the justice ministry noted that JPs have an obligation to perform voluntary community-based activities as required by the custos, which include visits to prisons to ensure the rights of persons in custody are protected and dignity respected in prisons or lock-ups.

“However, notice is taken with great concern of a video being circulated on social media in which four JPs – one being a medical doctor — are seen questioning the condition and health of accused Rushane Barnett whilst the engagement was being videotaped.

“The matter will be fully investigated under the auspices of the relevant custos rotulorum, and if the investigation shows breaches of the Justices of the Peace Act (2018) and any JPs Code of Conduct, there will be consequences,” the news release said.

Section 7(3)(e) of the first schedule of the Act outlines that a JP must safeguard the confidentiality of information that comes to him or her and must never disclose the information except permitted by law.

Several calls to Custos of St Andrew Ian Forbes’ cell phone went unanswered on Monday, while The Gleaner was not able to reach chairman of the Medical Council of Jamaica, Dr Kenneth Vaughan, after contacting the organisation.

In the approximately six-minute-long recording which surfaced on social media last week, concerns were raised in some quarters about the rights of Barnett, as well as the possibility of its release impacting the court case.

It showed Barnett being questioned by the team of JPs, which included Dr Andrei Cooke.

The JPs stated that they were present to protect the rights of the accused and to address any breach of such rights.

However, the Lay Magistrates’ Association of Jamaica (LMAJ) has distanced itself from the JPs and has condemned their actions.

The association said that the actions of the JPs contradict the tenets of their office and are also not in accordance with the approved modus operandi in the execution of duties.

“Any justice of the peace who acts along these lines is acting on their own, as these actions are incongruous to those laid out in the Justice of the Peace Act 2018,” it said in a statement issued on Monday.

The LMAJ referenced Section 7(2b) (first schedule) of the Act which states a JP must remain unbiased in the exercise of their functions and must take all necessary steps to avoid conflicts of interest (real or perceived) and to uphold the integrity of the office.

The association said the release of the video, whether intentional or otherwise, taints the impartiality of the role of the JP.

Leaked by mistake

The Gleaner has learnt that the video was mistakenly sent to a cell phone number thought to belong to Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) personnel because there was no representative present at the time of the medical examination from the agency.

But INDECOM Commissioner Hugh Faulkner said on Monday that INDECOM operates independently and would not have participated in the medical examination of Barnett.

“We work independently, objectively and impartially. We do not transfer any aspect of it to any authority. What we had requested of the custody officer was that Mr Barnett should get medical attention,” he said, noting that the document was served on June 29.

Meanwhile, Barnett’s attorney Tamika Harris has suggested that her client never indicated that he was abused while in the custody of the police.

“From what I understand, he never said that the police beat him. What he said was that they threatened him, so I’m not sure if the justices of the peace expected to see threat marks on his body,” she said.

Harris told The Gleaner that at the time Barnett made statements to the court, she was not his legal representative, but noted that she has sought to get the transcript of the proceedings.

“When I get that transcript, I’m going to open another can of worms,” she warned.