Tue | Jan 19, 2021

Call resurfaces for child-friendly court

Published:Friday | December 4, 2020 | 12:18 AMJudana Murphy/Gleaner Writer
Deputy Superintendent of Police Radcliffe Gordon of the Centre for the Investigation of Sexual Offences and Child Abuse.
Deputy Superintendent of Police Radcliffe Gordon of the Centre for the Investigation of Sexual Offences and Child Abuse.

Chief executive officer of the Child Protection and Family Services Agency (CPFSA), Rosalee Gage-Grey, is appealing for the establishment of a children’s court in Jamaica.

“A court that’s just there for children, with all the bells and whistles – child-friendly courtrooms with nice colours,”she told a Gleaner Editors’ Forum on Wednesday.

Gage-Grey said that that development would be an important step in improving the juvenile justice system, as children are deserving of more than “a courtroom that declares when children are present”.

“Parents can take children to courts outside of our intervention and when they do, they should have a comfortable and safe space for the children,” she said.

Gage-Grey said that Jamaica could begin by setting up the courts by regions, which would serve a cluster of parishes.

Trinidad and Tobago’s Children Court became operational in February 2018, while in Belize, the Punta Gorda family court became child-friendly two years earlier.

The Belizean court boasts play and observation rooms for children, with a two-way mirror that looks out on to the courtroom.

The CPFSA head said there has been an improvement in the time it takes for rape cases to process in court, but there is still room for advancement.

“Especially for younger children who have to give evidence before the court, we really are pushing for more use of the technology that would allow them not having to be presented to the court,” she said.

The notion of a child-centred court has been a matter of consideration for a while on the agenda, Youth State Minister Robert Morgan confirmed, but he deferred more substantive comment to Justice Minister Delroy Chuck.

Calls to Chuck’s mobile phone on Thursday went unanswered.

The police’s transportation of a 14-year-old girl in the same vehicle along with her accused rapist in December 2016 sparked public outrage about the standard operating procedure concerning victims of abuse.

At the time, child psychologist Dr Orlean Brown-Earle expressed concern about the fear the teen may have experienced, which could have exacerbated her post-traumatic stress disorder.

Gage-Grey told journalists that strides have been made in that regard.

“Our protocols now, both with our CISOCA officers and ourselves, is that children are transported alone. Especially in the Kingston and St Andrew area, there is a bus that is assigned to do pickups for children going to the courts, and our officers do provide some of that transport,” she told The Gleaner.

Meanwhile, deputy superintendent of police at the Centre for the Investigation of Sexual Offences and Child Abuse (CISOCA), Radcliffe Gordon, suggested that organisational changes be made to upgrade child-protection services across the island.

A multi-agency approach exists in the Corporate Area, with the CPFSA, CISOCA, and the medical services under one roof.

“That is a model that, if replicated across the island, will augur well. I’m coming from a country division and that was one of the challenges we had in dealing with sexual offences. We relied on the clinics and hospitals which other persons use. Here at CISOCA, we have medical staff that are dedicated to our investigations,” he explained.

judana.murphy@gleanerjm.com