Cops’ hands not tied by abuse victims – lawyer
Members of the Jamaican Bar Association believe that legal provisions already exist for criminal matters to be placed before the courts without the cooperation of the complainant.
“An assault is an offence against the State and can be prosecuted once sufficient evidence is available to present before a tribunal of fact,” Tamika Harris, co-chairperson for the criminal law practice and procedure subcommittee of JAMBAR, told The Gleaner.
“The primary issue is always whether the police have cogent evidence to prove, for example, that the offence took place and the identity of the offender.”
Harris said that the police should be able to prefer a charge, independent of the complainant, if there are sufficient cogent eyewitness accounts, medical reports, and forensic evidence.
The attorney-at-law was responding to a recommendation made by Prime Minister Andrew Holness in Parliament on Tuesday that legislation be passed that would give the State greater prosecutorial latitude even when a complainant fails to turn up or follow through on a report of violence.
Holness acknowledged that in cases of domestic abuse, the victims are required to participate in the investigative and court processes in order for the matter to be settled.
“It is for this reason, friends, relatives, and social services are critical to supporting the victims of domestic violence to get past the stigma, embarrasment, trauma, and the economic risk as they pursue judicial recourse,” he told lawmakers.
He continued: “This is one of the areas that the Parliament needs to look at carefully and determine whether or not our laws go far enough and offer enough protection.”
While he did not name the jurisdictions, Holness said there were other countries whose legislative framework allowed for the police, even without victims’ statements and participation, to pursue criminal charges.
“It is something that we will have to look at. It is something that the Parliament must look at,” he added.
Attempts to contact Attorney General Marlene Malahoo Forte for comment were unsuccessful.