JFJ/Observer Column Article – Time to review detention practices: Part 2

Time to review detention practices: Part 2

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

PREVIOUSLY Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ) focused on a person’s rights related to detention and the fact that individuals should not be held for more than 24 hours without charge. This week we examine how persons can be released from police custody.

Persons are released from police custody normally: – (1) after a decision is taken to release them without charge; or (2) after a decision has been taken to charge and then grant them bail.

JFJ receives complaints that citizens are denied bail simply as a means of punishing them and without good reason. By law, once a citizen is charged by the officer/sub-officer of a police station the person should be offered bail unless sufficient cause is shown for keeping that individual in custody (Section 24 – Constabulary Force Act) or that detainee is charged with murder, treason or treason felony. In the event that the person is charged with the aforesaid offences, only the courts can grant bail.

If bail is refused by the police, the police should note the reason on the requisite form and the detainee, upon request, should be brought “forthwith” to court for the magistrate to consider the issue of bail (Section 25 Constabulary Force Act). Our experience shows that the police often fail to formally note the refusal of bail or to immediately bring detainees to a Justice for bail to be considered.
Once in court, a resident magistrate (RM) may consider whether or not the person should be remanded or released pending trial. The RM should grant bail unless sufficient cause is shown for keeping the citizen in custody. The sufficient cause for keeping citizens in custody could include the belief that they will (1) fail to surrender to custody; (2) commit an offence while on bail; or (3) interfere with witnesses or otherwise obstruct the course of justice, whether in relation to themselves or any other person.

In cases reported to JFJ, some detainees were remanded by the court for extended periods of time pending trial, simply because the RM refused to hear the bail application on that day. In one case a detainee died in custody after a five-year wait for trial. In another case, a complainant was remanded for six weeks to allow the police “more time” to produce a document that was needed for his case.

To cover up the prolonged detention, some police officers allegedly transfer citizens from one police station to the next, without informing their families until the transfer has taken place. The issue that is most concerning is that many detainees (some detained for more than six months) are released without being convicted for their suspected crimes.

The continued act of detaining citizens for prolonged periods is a breach of the law. Unlawful detention practices unfairly target citizens from certain socioeconomic groups and alienate them. Failure to review current detention practices will fuel the mistrust between citizens and the police.