JFJ/Observer Column Article – JFJ reflects on its achievements

AS Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ) celebrates 15 years of advocacy in Jamaica, the organisation notes some achievements in its journey. Since 1999, JFJ has been lobbying the Government of Jamaica (GOJ) to recognise that improved quality of life should be experienced by all, including the most vulnerable.

JFJ’s first years of activism led to several feats including the award of damages and costs from the state to thirteen men who had been illegally detained in Grant’s Pen, the development of a policy document recognising the right of citizens to have independent observers at the post-mortems of their relatives, and a commission of enquiry into the Montego Bay Street People Scandal.

JFJ has supported numerous families seeking to achieve justice in the Coroner’s and Supreme courts. JFJ on behalf of one of its clients challenged the use of ‘professional’ (repeat) jurors in the Coroner’s Court. The statutory challenge resulted in the cessation of the use of professional jurors in the Kingston and St Andrew Coroner’s Court except in cases where the professional jurors were already empanelled prior to the ruling.

JFJ’s intervention in the courts has not only helped to progress cases through the court system at a faster pace than it would have normally gone, but has also caused charges to be laid against several police officers. Owing to the organisation’s extensive and documented work in the Coroner’s Courts and the wider justice system, some of its recommendations for improvements were incorporated into the Justice System Reform Task Force Report.

JFJ has also taken cases internationally in order to get redress where domestic avenues have been exhausted. On behalf of the mother of Janice Allen, a 13-year-old girl who was shot in the back by a policeman in her community, JFJ took the case all the way to the Privy Council to challenge the fraudulently obtained not-guilty verdict in the case. The Privy Council ruled that the director of public prosecutions could re-charge the accused, as fraudulent conduct which results in an acquittal cannot render the justice system powerless.

Other international avenues for legal address have been successfully attempted by JFJ in its work. The organisation has been able to petition the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on several occasions, including on behalf of the family of Michael Gayle and children in state care. Rulings have been issued in these cases for the GOJ to provide certain remedies.

Over the years, JFJ and other like-minded interest groups have had successes in legislative advocacy for better governance and protection of rights. These lobbying efforts have impacted the promulgation of several bills including the Access to Information Act, Child Care and Protection Act, Coroners (Amendment) Act, and the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms (Constitutional Amendment) Act.

Socioeconomic empowerment has not been excluded from JFJ’s successes. Its social and economic justice portfolio has assisted residents of underserved communities in developing their capacities to combine resources and lobby for their collective interests. The group’s actions have allowed for the establishment of a Jamaica Foundation for Lifelong Learning centre in response to the problems identified in Springfield, St. Thomas.

JFJ continues to remain a civil society organisation representing the citizenry through its lobbying, public education and legal response. As the organisation looks to the next fifteen years, its modus operandi will continue to be geared towards ensuring that the rights of Jamaicans are met through better state governance.