JFJ Welcomes Ruling by Supreme Court Judge in the case of Gary Hemans v The Attorney General of Jamaica
Tuesday, July 2, 2013, Kingston, Jamaica, Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ) welcomes the recent ruling by Mr. Justice David Batts, Supreme Court Judge in the case of Gary Hemans v The Attorney General of Jamaica, that among other things, “It is still the law of [Jamaica] that persons under the Queen’s peace are entitled to freedom from search of their person or property unless such a search is legally justified…it is not a lawful reason to stop and search a car, based on the fact that cars with similar features are often stolen and used in the commission of crime” and that the police have no power, under the Road Traffic Act, to arbitrarily stop and search motor vehicles. The ruling represents a significant elucidation of the law and will hopefully put a stop to this long standing practice in Jamaica.
Over the years, the police have arbitrarily stopped motorists, requesting to see their vehicle documents and conducting random searches of their person and vehicles and most times doing so without disclosing reasons. When challenged by some motorists, they recite “searching for guns, drugs and ammunition” as their probable cause. Based on Mr. Justice Batts’ judgment, “The reasonable cause to suspect that an individual has or is, or is about to commit a crime must relate to peculiar characteristics of the persons or the vehicle he is driving or the manner in which it is operated, or to information received. In Jamaica the citizen is free to move about without an obligation to carry a pass, and is not to be subject to arbitrary or random search. This is still a constitutional guarantee.” JFJ has always maintained this in its community workshops with residents from the inner-city, students from high schools across Jamaica as well as in human rights training with police recruits.
JFJ is concerned, however, that the Commissioner of Police, Owen Ellington, has reportedly indicated that his officers will continue the random stop and search of vehicles until the ruling has been examined to see if it has any significant implication for the way the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) operates. The law has been interpreted by the courts and a ruling has been issued. Unless and/or until the ruling is overturned the Commissioner must advise his officers to act in accordance with the law. Having regard to reports on occasion of police failing to show due regard to the courts, the Commissioner of Police cannot be seen as ambivalent to rulings or pronouncements of our courts. Recent reported comments by the Commissioner are cause for grave concern. The police are not a law unto themselves.
We are also disturbed at the alleged treatment of Gary Hemans by the police, including, being beaten, and forced to strip naked which we find to be unconscionable, unacceptable and deeply disturbing.
JFJ applauds Mr. Justice Batts for his willingness to so clearly and unequivocally rule on the applicable interpretation of the law and the necessity for the police to uphold the constitutional rights of citizens.