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Justice too slow for some accused

Published:Wednesday | April 21, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Barbara Gayle, Staff Reporter

The slow pace of the justice system was condemned Monday by several accused persons who have been languishing in custody for more than five years without their cases being tried.

"I want my case to be tried. I don't have a future in jail, Your Honour," an accused man told Justice Gloria Smith when he appeared in the Home Circuit Court.

The prisoner made the comment when he was told that his murder case was being put off to July 5 for trial. The man said he had been in custody since 2005.

One prisoner, on being told that his lawyer was in a part-heard case, said he wanted his case to proceed without his lawyer.

"It is 10 years now since I have been in custody," 27-year-old Rohan Masters said.

Attorney-at-law Tom Tavares-Finson, who is representing Masters, said based on the request of his client, he would seek permission from the court to withdraw from the case.

The judge told Tavares-Finson that she did not expect him to proceed with the case when he had another case which was continuing from last week.

Masters' request was denied, and his case was set for July 19. He is facing a retrial for the murder of 48-year-old gas station operator Sylvia Edwards, who was shot and killed in August 2000. He had been convicted, but the Jamaican Court of Appeal quashed the verdict and ordered a retrial.

He was charged jointly with 51-year-old Rupert Wallace, but Wallace was killed last month in St Thomas in an alleged shoot-out with the police. Masters was offered bail but was unable to take up the offer.

In custody since 2003

Renardo Levy, whose case was transferred from the St Thomas Circuit Court to Kingston, was upset with the long delay affecting his case. He has been in custody since 2003 on a murder charge.

"I am in custody and all the court is doing is setting date after date and my case is not being tried," he lamented.

Levy's case is set for trial on July 19.

Justice Smith said she would instruct the prosecutors that Levy's case must proceed on the next occasion or she would have to intervene.

"Cases cannot be on the list year after year," the judge commented.

Defence lawyer Dr Randolph Williams, who is representing 36-year-old Neville Barnes, who is facing rape charges, told the court that his client was also disappointed about protracted detention - without trial - dating back to 2005.

Trial has been set for July 5 but Williams said he was asking for a mention date so that his client could apply for bail. The case is to be mentioned on May 7.

Barnes' case has been put off on several occasions because the complainants were unavailable.

These cases are in no way unusual in the Jamaican justice system, which has been dogged by backlogs, numbering in the hundreds of thousands.

Editorial on case

The Gleaner reported on Monday that Lance Mathias, 26, has been jailed, pending trial, on a murder charge dating back to 2004.

His case spurred The Gleaner to publish an editorial on Tuesday highlighting the inefficiency which compromises timely dispensation of justice.

The editorial read: "Lance Mathias is being denied justice, which, of course, is not unique to him. It is the plight of many scores of young men, mostly from inner-city communities, who, daily, contend with Jamaica's grindingly slow, inefficient and often lazy justice system.

"Most of them are faceless. We occasionally hear the names, but the impact, usually, is fleeting."