November 25, 2011, Kingston, Jamaica –Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ) is concerned by a number of events that have occurred in the Justice system recently.  The  imposition by a Resident Magistrate of a three month sentence for the stealing of 45 ackee pods from the Governor General’s land appears to be manifestly excessive on the face of it.  In addition the statements attributed to the RM by the Press, if true, give grave cause for concern as to the equal and impartial application of time-honoured principles of justice by our courts.  The sentence and the remarks reported will only serve to reinforce the widely held belief that there is one standard of justice for the rich and another for the poor.

The second issue of concern is the recent report of a case of four men charged with murder being before the court for eleven years who were subsequently released by Justice Lennox Campbell.  While JFJ is in no position to comment on the correctness of the Judge’s actions in law it is clear that something is fundamentally flawed in the administration of our justice system when murder cases can be allowed to languish for 11 years in clear breach of the Constitutional Right that “any person is charged with a criminal offence…shall…be afforded a fair hearing within a reasonable time”.  That this is not the only case of similar status only makes the need for effective ACTION to address systemic problems all the more acute.  We can only hope that Justice Campbell’s actions serve as a catalyst for the urgently needed reform of the processes.

The recently issued report of the United Nations Human Rights Committee recommended to the Government of Jamaica that they “should urgently pursue efforts to reform the justice sector by implementing the Jamaican Justice Reform recommendations to ensure speedy and fair trials.”  The causes of the delays in the system are not all rooted in the courts or in the absence of jurors.  As the UN Human Rights Committee also noted

The Committee is concerned at reports that the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions is inefficient, as it fails to expedite the initiation and prosecution of criminal proceedings such that there are reports of inordinate delays in conducting prosecutions. (arts. 2 and 14)

The Committee recommended that “The State party should take concrete steps to ensure that the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions efficiently discharges its prosecutorial functions”.

These recommendations made by the HR Committee are not new and have been made many times in many different forums, both local and international.  The effects of failure to implement them fall on real people, victims and their families, accused persons and their families and all those who would look to the courts for Justice.  The impact of failure to take effective action is to reinforce the negative perceptions of the system and the increasing lack of confidence in the ability of the society to operate fairly for all.  The time for action is now.