OUR CARIBBEAN: Top cops in new anti-crime moves
WHILE JUDICIAL officers in Barbados and some other Caribbean Community states are pleading for new “protection arrangements” in the face of increasing daring lawlessness from the criminal underworld, the region’s police commissioners are pushing for new initiatives to downsize the mountain of criminal and civil cases awaiting judgments by the courts.
Against the backdrop of the assassination two Saturday nights ago of the 58-year-old senior counsel of Trinidad and Tobago, Dana Seetahal, judges and other leading officials of the judiciary, as well as lawyers involved in criminal cases, have chosen to urge priority attention from national security forces for their physical protection.
In contrast, while not unmindful of the personal concerns of practitioners in the criminal justice system, the Association of Caribbean Police Commissioners (ACCP) feels that the time is long overdue for a systematic review of the backlog of cases – many for as long as ten years – that are yet to be addressed by the courts.
Consequently, in the spirit of the maxim “justice delayed is justice denied”, the top cops decided at their 29th annual meeting last month in Port of Spain to pursue new initiatives for the introduction and sustainability, for as long as practical, of 24-hour courts in their respective jurisdictions.
They feel that the lingering chronic backlog in court cases reflects poorly on the region’s justice administration system and was unfair to victims of crime as well as witnesses and lawyers.
The commissioners, who had as their central theme Working In Partnership To Combat Transnational Crime, alluded to the ever-increasing time it takes for cases to be dealt with, including rape and murder offences. The problem, they warned, “is resulting in increasingly dangerous offenders being granted bail which is further fuelling violence as witnesses are targeted and assassinated . . .”.
They also denounced what they regard as “the constant scourge of bribe payments” and the ongoing challenges to combat human trafficking. They pointed out that this was a form of “modern day slavery”, involving children as young as five years and upward, from countries in Asia, with some victims being exploited into servitude and others for the sex trade.
The top cops stressed that the region’s murder rates were “far too high”, recording at over 50 per 100 000 population and, additionally, that the region was now burdened with “endemic corruption”, according to a survey conducted by Transparency International.
Emphasising that the region was “facing the real threat of growing lawlessness”, the commissioners said they had committed themselves to a new approach in resolving the great backlog of cases, with a focus to changing “the processes by putting victims and witnesses at the heart of the criminal justice system . . .”.
They said they also shared “best practices” among themselves and commended Jamaica for leadership in piloting “a real-time intelligence template that identifies trends in one country with cybercrime or ATM fraud as examples to be immediately flagged to colleagues for action”.
Together, the commissioners asked of their “key partners” in the battle against criminality to join them “in seeking a renewal of public confidence and faith in the rule of law” across the Caribbean.
Owen Ellington, police commissioner of Jamaica – one of the major centres of the prevailing criminal epidemic – went on record earlier in the year as declaring that an effective plea bargaining law “is critical to the reductions of murder and violent crimes”. He also urged a combination of new legislative initiatives with “transformation of the police force”.
Significantly, the commissioners’ perspectives on crime and official responses had coincided with a United Nations Human Development Report on the Caribbean that pointed to how rising levels of violent crime were negatively impacting on the region’s social and economic progress.
The report outlined specific approaches to address “insecurity and violence” in the region. Perhaps the Association of Caribbean Police Commissioners should consider reviewing the recommendations of this UN report in their quest to engage the governments and judiciary in new initiatives to arrest the rising murder rates and curbing the distressing backlog of cases awaiting judgements.
• Rickey Singh is a noted Caribbean journalist.