Police say vetting of all files by prosecutor impractical

Police say vetting of all files by prosecutor impractical

Wednesday, August 05, 2020

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CHAIRMAN of the Jamaica Police Federation Patrae Rowe says any consideration being given by Justice Minister Delroy Chuck to making it mandatory for the police to consult a senior prosecutor or clerk of court with evidence before laying charges against an alleged offender is “very impractical”.

In fact, Rowe, while speaking to the Jamaica Observer yesterday, said a policy change in that regard would amount to nothing more than the minister pandering to the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM), the police oversight body.

His comments follow a disclosure by Chuck on Friday, that he and technocrats within the Ministry of Justice were seriously contemplating the policy change because 90 per cent of the files brought before the courts are incomplete.

Chuck, who was speaking at a press conference on Friday held at the ministry in St Andrew, said the decision would allow for the timely completion of cases and the wrap up of a trial within six months.

He said that the ministry’s policy would be similar to what is required of investigators from INDECOM, which scrutinises police shootings.

“… I dare say 90 per cent of the cases where a police officer charges a member of the public… the cases, the files are not ready [when sent to the parish court]. Therefore, the case keeps mention, mentioned dozens, sometimes up to 50 times before a trial date can be set because the case is not ready for prosecution,” Chuck said.

“The [INDECOM] commissioner made a very important point and it is something that I’m giving serious consideration to, [because] if we say that the DPP [Director of Public Prosecutions] must examine the evidence from the investigation [done by INDECOM] before a charge can be laid, why doesn’t it apply also to those police officers who, having investigated, why don’t we then say that the police officer must take it to the crown counsel or to the clerk of court and let them determine if the material supports criminal charge? It is something that the Ministry of Justice is looking into,” he added.

He was making the case for why legislative changes should be made to the INDECOM Act to strengthen the investigative capabilities of the organisation.

But Rowe has objections, presenting a slew of issues that, he said, would arise from such a decision.

“Police arrest thousands of people per year. If all of those case files were to have an added layer of checks and balance, it would overwhelm the court system which would add to much more delays,” the sergeant noted.

He argued that there is already a plea and case management hearing which takes place within the court, which compensates for any gap within a case ahead of trial.

“So there is already a built-in mechanism to assess the readiness of a case for trial. So, for example, in any parish, there are so much and no more clerk of the courts, and if every arrest made police keep the person in custody and wait until you get a response from the clerk of court it would take a much longer time, based on the overwhelming amount of files that that clerk of the court has. Remember that the clerk of the court really prosecutes the matters, and you will be adding more responsibilities in terms of vetting of case files,” Rowe insisted.

“… I think the minister is trying to appease INDECOM with a position that they have long carried that is not well reasoned at all. The fact that you send a file to DPP for police officers and government officials and don’t do it for regular citizens it does not speaks to inequity and that’s what INDECOM has perpetuated over time. I think the minister is giving an elevated level of relevance to it that he should not have, because it’s not a well-reasoned position,” he added.

He said this is because when the action of a lawman or government official is being questioned it is not the individual’s action that is under scrutiny but the action of the State because police officers are State agents.

Rowe said not everyone is competent enough to examine the action of a State entity and therefore such actions should be examined by a constitutional body.

“So it’s much more complicated than the minister puts it,” he said.

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