Are the police special? - JFJ puts pressure on Gov’t to give INDECOM prosecutorial powers
THERE IS growing pressure on the Government to give the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) prosecutorial powers as the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions has been blamed for being too slow or ineffective in securing convictions involving the security forces.
There are nearly 4,000 open matters involving the police that are to be investigated and a ruling for prosecution given, human-rights lobby Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ) said on Monday.
The call comes more than a month after INDECOM lost its appeal to the Privy Council in its bid to initiate criminal prosecutions.
But the London-based court ruled that the watchdog has the power to bring action where its investigations are being obstructed without lawful justification.
JFJ said during Monday’s press briefing that a family has been waiting for more than 13 years for a case involving two officers charged with murder to be heard.
Harold Malcolm said that his brother, Winston Malcolm, and his son of the same name had been killed in their homes by the police.
Till now, the case has been stalled.
Malcolm said that in 2015, a Coroner’s Court recommended that the two cops be charged with murder.
“The delay compounds your suffering and it compounds your pain,” Malcolm muttered as he got emotional.
“Certainly, the system as we have it now is not serving Jamaica; it is not serving people; it’s not serving people who continue to grieve,” Malcolm said as he bemoaned the lack of attention being given to cases involving the police.
JFJ charged that police officers were getting special treatment under the law because, unlike civilians, there is a different process that could take up to months before personnel are charged.
However, DPP Paula Llewellyn has defended her office, blasting JFJ over the criticisms.
“Clearly JFJ, they are not in possession of accurate statistics; they have not done any empirical analysis on the system,” said Llewellyn.
“They have not enquired from us in relation to the status of any matter. They are clearly are totally uninformed ... ,” she said.
The DPP told The Gleaner on Monday that her office had been highly successful in getting convictions with cases involving police officers, but noted it was not her style to boast or raise concerns about weaknesses in investigative bodies.
“I don’t have hair on my chest where I feel the need to be out there making statements in the public space that will undermine another entity. Where we see shortcomings and errors, we work with the particular stakeholder behind the scenes to address them, which is what we’ve been trying to do with INDECOM,” Llewellyn told The Gleaner.
Pointing to other bodies such as the Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency (MOCA) and the Integrity Commission which, do not, by law, request a ruling from the DPP, JFJ said that INDECOM should be afforded similar powers.
“At this time, we will call for INDECOM to have the power to prosecute, because that is the only fair way at this time, and in light of all the resource constraints that Jamaica has,” John Clarke, senior legal officer at JFJ, said.
But the DPP shot back, saying that the Integrity Commission was not investigating cases involving offences against the person.
“The cases that they are investigating would rarely affect somebody’s liberty,” Llewellyn said, adding that her office has been backing MOCA as a new organisation.
“Where INDECOM is concerned, so concerned were we, especially when they just started out, that I had to assign a senior prosecutor to be a sort of liaison between the office and INDECOM so that we could be very responsive,” the DPP said.
The oversight body had, up to May 15 this year, launched investigations into 361 incidents involving members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF). INDECOM probed 625 JCF-related incidents for all of 2019.
“INDECOM cases and cases against police officers seem to be the only class of cases where a charge cannot be laid before some other body vets it, and that gives a different standard of justice for police and security forces and for the general public,” Rodje Malcolm, JFJ’s executive director, said.
In 2015, a joint select committee of parliament recommended that INDECOM’s entitlement to prosecute should be clarified in law.
Both the Jamaica Labour Party and the People’s National Party have agreed that the INDECOM Act should be amended to give power to institute and undertake criminal proceedings.
“Years later, what has changed in that postion? Why no longer is the Government and the Opposition in favour of giving basic power to lay charges to INDECOM recognising why INDECOM was established?” the JFJ executive director questioned.