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The Next 50 years - Restore Law & Order

Published:Monday | December 17, 2012 | 12:00 AM
A policeman tries to maintain law and order at a scene in Linstead, St Catherine.-CONTRIBUTED
Newly appointed Queen's Counsel, along with Chief Justice Zaila McCalla (third left), in her chambers after she admitted them to practice at the Inner Bar earlier this year. They are (from left) George Soutar, Walter Scott, David Batts and Sandra Minott Phillips.-Contributed

Jamaica continues to celebrate 50 years of Independence. We have achieved a lot. However, there is much work left to be done if we are to progress as a country. We must begin to tackle Jamaica's chronic problems in a targeted and sustained way to make this country a better place to live, work and grow families. The Next 50 Years, a special Gleaner series, will spotlight some of the challenges we must fix in the coming years. We want to hear from you. Email us at and join the debate.

IN 1664, the Assembly in Jamaica, as one of its first enactments, immediately gave notice that the laws of England were in force in Jamaica. The history of the development of law in Jamaica has consistently taken on this mirror principle.

The Constitution is a vivid example of our retention of colonialism, as it sought to keep colonial laws in place, making a mockery of a new beginning in 1962, and defeating the whole idea of Independence.

In so far as our laws must be the subject of continuous refinement and adjustment, we need now to revisit certain fundamental principles.

The abolition of the 'dock' in criminal trials must be a priority. The dock, in which a person who is presumed innocent is isolated, must be removed in a redesigned courtroom. Other jurisdictions have been able to have the accused sit at the same table as his representative, without any resulting compromise in security.

In other jurisdictions, should a shackled accused be exposed to the jury, it is grounds for a retrial to be ordered. The dock is inconsistent with the principle of the presumption of innocence. So, too, is the reference to the accused as 'the prisoner in the dock' in the oath taken by jurors prior to them returning a verdict. The term 'prisoner' clearly imputes a person already convicted.

The preservation of our democracy is directly related to trial by jury. Consequently, we must turn a deaf ear to those who, under the guise of expediency, argue that trial by judge alone is the way forward. We must improve the jury system rather than limit it. The collective wisdom of our people is superior to that of any single individual, be it judge or king.