Justice minister, DPP urge public to observe rule of law
THE Michaelmas Session of the Home Circuit Court officially started on Sunday against the backdrop of two vigilante killings and growing calls for capital punishment for sex offenders following last week's brutal rape of five females, including an eight-year-old.
But despite frustrations about the state of the justice system, Director of Public Prosecutions Paula Llewellyn has issued a reminder that due process must be allowed to punish guilty persons.
Her comment follows the savage murder of 41-year-old school teacher Michael Melbourne, who was mobbed by an angry crowd on Friday night after he allegedly mowed down four persons along the Old Harbour main road. The murder of the school teacher was preceded by the gruesome hacking of Donovan Hazley in Trelawny on the night of September 23 by angry residents who alleged that he was hiding a man they suspected to have been responsible for the death of two boys in the parish.
"These occurrences are very, very unfortunate and very tragic and two wrongs really don't make a right," Llewellyn told the Jamaica Observer Sunday after the annual Assize service at the East Queen Street Baptist Church in downtown Kingston. The event saw a large turnout of members from the judiciary and legal fraternity attired in black robes and in some cases, white wigs.
"We are a country that is built not only on the pillars of democracy, but the rule of law. Certainly as a prosecutor, I would never condone jungle justice, and nobody is above the law. Due process means that for everyone, you are innocent until proven guilty," argued the DPP.
Her sentiments were also shared by Minister of Justice Mark Golding, who urged Jamaicans to let the law take its course.
"It is a very disturbing thing when citizens feel that they have the right or otherwise be compelled to take the law into their own hands and to dispense violence against other people...," he said.
"That is not the way our society is supposed to function. We have systems that are designed to deal with these matters and while those systems have their problems, the alternatives of citizens doing it themselves is much worse. It is not justice," he said.
Meantime, while many have joined in the call for the toughest penalties possible for those found guilty of rape, the justice minister said the current penalties are sufficient.
"From time to time when terrible things happen in society, we have these reactions to them. Speaking for myself, I don't believe that this is the way to go. I feel that the penalties that we have for sexual offences such as rape are still effective, but what we need is the effective prosecution of those cases and that is where we need to have emphasis -- ensuring that the system works properly, so people feel that they will be held accountable," he said.
In the meantime, Public Defender Earl Witter said everyone is to be blamed for the current state of the society. He urged Jamaicans to play their part in ensuring that justice is dispensed according to the rule of law, and not on the basis of emotions.
"I am afraid that what we have to do nonetheless as citizens is to help the investigative authorities [and] the police to unmask the perpetrators, so that they can be arrested, charged and be put on trial," he said.