J’can justice system inching closer to First-World standards
Minister of Justice Delroy Chuck says the National Witness Care Strategy and Action Plan, as well as a Multi-Agency Protocol for Child Justice, will serve to bring Jamaica’s justice system closer to First-World standards.
Speaking at Wednesday’s handover ceremony of the proposed manuals, Chuck said the Witness Care Strategy is important, as it sends a signal to the witnesses that if they don’t necessarily want to face an accused, for one reason or another, they don’t have to, given the technology involved which gives them some amount of anonymity.
It has been a common practice in the Jamaican legal system for justices to throw out court cases, as witnesses fail to turn up for questioning in a court hearing.
And while there has been some improvement in the delivery of justice in recent years, it is still not yet at the desired world-class level that Chuck is seeking.
The manuals were put together at the Sir Arthur Lewis Centre by Dr Dacia Leslie and Althea McBean and are products of a Witness Care and Protection Conference held in 2019. They represent a critical opportunity to advance a more comprehensive, integrated and people-centred approach to the treatment of witnesses and vulnerable victims in the justice system and were completed in collaboration with Global Affairs Canada.
Chuck reminded that there remain several problems in dealing with witness participation in Jamaican court cases, citing non-attendance as one of the main hindrances. He said the feeling in many communities, for a variety of reasons, is that “witnesses feel that they are not important in the process”.
“We cannot effectively deliver justice in either the civil or criminal courts without brave, courageous witnesses who are willing to come forward and tell the truth honestly and give a frank, open explanation and information of what took place,” he said.
The justice minister also stated that there cannot be any successful case and conviction without effective care and assistance to the witness.
“The Government will do as much as it can to protect witnesses by having technology in the courts, so that witness can be at a remote location, which is already happening, and still be able to participate in a case,” said Chuck.
Canadian High Commissioner Laurie Peters said the witness care strategy is the first of its kind in Jamaica and, along with the multi-agency child justice protocols, will reflect a “model for justice policies and programmes that is gender-responsive, people-centred, trauma-informed and rights-oriented”.
“These strategies exemplified the type of innovation that is critical at this stage in Jamaica’s justice reform programme,” she said.
Peters noted the strategies also add a human element to the array of institutional and legislative reform that have been implemented to date.
“Importantly, they are supported by other products and initiatives under the Just Social Order component and provides the Jamaican public with accessible information on how the justice system serves the people,” Peters said.