JFJ/Observer Column Article – Time to Review Detention Practices: Part 1

Time to Review Detention Practices: Part 1

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Time to Review Detention Practices:

THIS is the first in a three-part series on detention by Jamaicans for Justice.

When we hear stories of persons being arrested and detained by the police, we often are guilty of asking ‘what dem du now?’ We have the pre-conceived ideas that citizens will not be detained unless there is a justifiable basis for said detention and their detention is in accordance with Jamaican law.

Jamaicans for Justice’s (JFJ) experience in 2013 has shown us that this is not always the case. We received numerous reports of unlawful detention which demonstrated that the practice of Jamaican police detaining citizens needs to be reviewed by the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF).

Reason for arrest?
Persons complain to JFJ that they are arrested by the police for ‘reasons unknown to them’ and are held for more than 24 hours without charge. This is in breach of our Constitution which states that “No person shall be deprived of his liberty except on reasonable grounds and in accordance with fair procedures established by law.”
(Section 14 – Constitution of Jamaica). Before a citizen is arrested the police must have reason to suspect that there is a need for said arrest. The citizen should be told at the time of his arrest or as soon as it practicable thereafter) of the reason for his detention (Section 14 (2) (b) – Constitution). Once he is charged, he should be informed “forthwith”, in a language which he understands, of the nature of the charge (Section 14 (2) (c) – Constitution).

Procedure after arrest – request
Persons complain to JFJ that they are often not informed of the reason for their arrest and once arrested, citizens are simply brought to a police station and “placed in a cell” to await further actions from the police. A detainee has the right to communicate with and be visited by his spouse, partner or family member, religious counsellor and a medical practitioner of his choice (Section 14 (2) (a) – Constitution).This right can be used by the detainee and his family to communicate whilst the detainee is in police custody.

Detained for more than 24 hours?
It is therefore important that citizens know that the police should normally have a warrant before they arrest someone. If the citizen is arrested pursuant to a warrant, the police officer has the right to hold the citizen for 24 hours before charging said citizen (Section 22 – Bail Act).

At the expiration of 24 hours the citizen should be charged or released. If the citizen is not charged or released at this time, the citizen or relative should contact a lawyer/legal aid.

The police should seek to get the citizen remanded by bringing them before a Justice. Persons can, however, be arrested without a warrant if they are caught committing or attempting to commit a crime. If the citizen was arrested without a warrant, then the police officer should bring the citizen “forthwith” to a Justice who would decide whether the citizen should be remanded or released (Section 15 – Constabulary Force Act).

The Justice should examine the specific cases of the ‘prisoner’ and ask whether there is a need to continue to detain this person pending further investigation from the police.

Based on our experience, detainees are not brought “forthwith” to a Justice when arrested without a warrant. In such cases, the citizen can appeal to the officer in charge of the police station for the detainee’s release or seek a habeas corpus from the court to get the detainee released. Accordingly, the practice of detaining citizens for more than 24 hours pending police investigation is in breach of
Jamaican law and should be reviewed.

The government is liable to be sued when citizens are held in breach of Jamaican law and our scarce resources diverted to making such pay-outs.