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EDITORIAL - Positive steps by the DPP

Published:Sunday | April 15, 2012 | 12:00 AM

That the Keith Clarke case is now in the hands of the director of public prosecutions (DPP) for a ruling is a matter of some optimism for Mr Clarke's family and friends, who want accountability for, and closure to, their loss. Civil-society organisations are concerned, more broadly, with the preservation of justice and the prevention of impunity by agents of the Jamaican State.

But those who are perceptive and who listen closely will discern, if not cynicism, more than a hint of doubt that our institutions charged with the protection of rights and the delivery of justice will behave in accordance with their moral and legal obligations. This cynicism envelops, too, the Office of the DPP.

The development in the Keith Clarke case, however, is part of a confluence of circumstances which can lay the basis for a new relationship between the Office of the DPP and the public, built on a foundation of trust.

Keith Clarke, 65, was an accountant. He was killed by soldiers at his home in a Kingston suburb in May 2010, ostensibly during a search for then fugitive drug lord, Christopher Coke. Mr Clarke was shot 22 times.

Public pressure, because of Mr Clarke's connections and status, buttressed efforts by the Independent Commission of Investigations - the independent agency that investigates alleged abuses by the security forces - to dismantle institutional roadblocks to this probe. With the matter now before the DPP, a remark by Mr Clarke's brother, Claude Clarke, a former government minister, is pregnant with implications.

encouraged by development

Speaking for the Clarke family, he said: "We are encouraged by the development. It justifies the confidence we have in the commissioner of INDECOM, Terrence Williams, who proceeded with great diligence and termination. Hopefully, the DPP will be equally committed to the search for justice."

That commitment on the part of the Office of the DPP, most Jamaicans would agree, is not in question. Its approach to public accountability, under the shelter of its constitutional independence, however, often causes doubt.

For instance, the lack of forthrightness, as well as the semantic tap dance to clear questions in the Joe Hibbert case, contributed to the sense of incompetence and dithering in requesting information from the British authorities in a matter in which a firm had already pleaded guilty to bribery. There seem, also, to be questions as to whether the Office of the DPP pulled out all the appropriate levers of the Jamaican State in an effort to have the British respond with alacrity to its requests, which, it says, is not usually the case. Additionally, the Office of the DPP usually offers no public explanations on the status of cases, or reasons for its actions. However, it has now launched a document outlining the framework within which it operates, and what, broadly, informs its decisions to proceed with cases.

Paula Llewellyn, the DPP, says the document is part of her response to the public's "clamour for transparency and accountability", which she accepts as legitimate, the independence of her office notwithstanding. Significantly, Ms Llewellyn has hinted that, having rebuffed such an invitation last year, she might be willing to appear before a parliamentary committee to answer questions, within appropriate limits, about the operations of her office.

That would be a worthy development. For justice, even at the Office of the DPP, is no cloistered virtue.

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