'The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice'

Thursday, December 28, 2017

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If we can be forgiven for tweaking Rev Theodore Parker's words somewhat, Jamaica's judicial system is searching for justice, finally, that can bring peace to the tortured soul of this troubled nation.

It is in that context that we take the anguished cry of retired judge of the Appeal Court, Justice Clarence W Walker against the concept of Sentence Reduction Day, which offers accused persons big cuts in the time they would have spent behind bars, if they plead guilty to their crime.

Justice Minister Delroy Chuck and supporters of the concept, like Director of Public Prosecutions Ms Paula Llewellyn, firmly believe that the programme will result in a dramatic reduction in the backlog of cases blamed for the painfully slow pace at which cases meander through the overburdened court system.

Justice Walker believes that sentence reduction days represent a commercialisation of the justice system and he, in fact, uses very strong words to express his disagreement in Monday's edition of this newspaper:

“I wholeheartedly disagree with this concept of 'discounted days'. In my opinion, it is a diabolical, misguided concept which smacks of the distasteful commercialisation of our hallowed, sacrosanct justice system. It should be scrapped forthwith…Heaven help us now!”

From the strong support that Justice Walker got from the relatively large number of readers posting comments on his views, it does appear that there are serious concerns about how the sentence reduction is being handled, and certainly how it is perceived.

We in this space have no doubt that something drastic had to be done to reduce the backlog in the courts. Over time, the backlog has been widely blamed for causing people to lose faith in the justice system and, moreover, to be tempted to take justice into their own hands, resulting in many of the murders we continue to report.

Yet, the main concern seems to be about murderers getting big discounts, in a country where the popular feeling is that capital punishment is the preferred prescription. Indeed, Justice Walker cited the sentence reduction for Phillip Brown, the construction worker who admitted he beat his pregnant ex-girlfriend to death, after having sex with her.

As sentence discounting is relatively new to Jamaica, in its current form, the country will need to develop confidence that it is getting the desired result and not encouraging would-be murderers to think they could get off with lesser sentences.

This will be achieved if judges apply sentence reduction in a manner that victims or their survivors, especially loved ones, can, at the end, feel justice was served. Extreme care must be taken that it does not become a means of subverting justice by inappropriate application.

As usual, Jamaican governments have no belief in public education, seeing it as a waste of scarce money. That is because too often the public education budget is given to some party hack pretending to be a communicator.

But this is something with which it is important to engage the public. Justice, and it cannot be said enough, must not only be done, but must be seen to be done.




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