Human rights groups lash PM

LOCAL human rights groups are taking Prime Minister Bruce Golding to task over a recommendation he made in Parliament on Tuesday, to allow for majority verdicts to decide cases of non-capital murder.

The Independent Jamaica Council of Human Rights (IJCHR), in a press release yesterday, said the categories of capital and non-capital murder were abolished in 2005 following amendments to the Offences Against the Person Act.

“The [IJCHR] is perplexed by this proposal. the circumstances that defined the former categories of capital and non-capital murder are now only considered after conviction, during the sentence hearing, and then only by the trial judge. Therefore, a majority verdict is impossible,” the release said.

GOMES… says her organisation is trying to determine whether the prime minister’s suggested reform is applicable
Similar sentiments were expressed by chairman of Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ), Dr Carolyn Gomes, who said her organisation was trying to determine whether the prime minister’s suggested reform was applicable.

“We don’t have a full position on that and there may be some problems with it because, as we understand, the law was altered to remove the distinction. It is supposed to be applicable when a person is charged and the verdict is arrived at, then the judge pronounces sentence on the basis of his assessment of the evidence. So we need to study that some more to see whether it is workable, and if it is workable, then whether or not we are in support of it,” the JFJ chairman said.

On Tuesday, Golding announced in Parliament several new measures to be implemented by the Government to tackle the nation’s soaring crime rate, including provisions for a majority of nine jurors out of 12 to decide on non-capital murders.

Golding also announced that criminal suspects could be detained for up to 72 hours without being charged, and that persons arrested and charged for serious crimes could be denied bail for up to 60 days. Both measures, however, drew the ire of the IJCHR.

“The council continues to reject the proposal for the detention of a person for any period without due regard to the provisions of the Constitution – particularly those in section 15(3), including the right to a trial within a reasonable period of time or to release.

“.The imposition of a mandatory remand undermines the constitutional provision of the presumption of innocence and the discretion of the judges, it mandates a judge to ‘sentence’ a person to 60 days imprisonment, without a trial or proof of wrongdoing – in breach of several rights guaranteed by the constitution,” the release said.

Gomes said, however, that the JFJ was ‘palpably relieved’ at the rule allowing for detention for up to 72 hours.
“We don’t have any objection to that; we are very relieved that it is not the suggested 28 days without charge. We are quite happy with the oversight of assistant commissioner (to authorise the detention), we would hope that this would mean that we would now get the police to actually follow the rules,” Gomes said.

She, however, said the JFJ had not yet taken a position on the 60-day period for detention without bail.

The IJCHR also described as breaching the constitutional mandate against mandatory imprisonment, the Government’s decision to impose a minimum mandatory imprisonment period of 10 years for persons on gun-related crimes.

Both Gomes and the IJCHR were in support of the use of DNA evidence, but said this depended largely on how the evidence was gathered
and safeguarded.

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Author: GLBTQ Jamaica Moderator

Activist and concerned gay man in Jamaica with over 19 years experience in advocacy and HIV/AIDS prevention work, LGBT DJ since 1996.

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