THE reluctance of Jamaican witnesses to come forward and give evidence in court is one of the major causes of the backlog in the nation's legal system.
The issue came to the fore last week when the Attorney General's Office could only muster up four Jamaicans to give evidence, at the historic sitting here of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), of their alleged mistreatment at the hands of officials at the Grantley Adams International Airport in Barbados when they attempted to enter that island but were refused entry.
Last year, the Attorney General's Office had paid for advertisements in the media pleading with Jamaicans who felt wronged by Barbadian officials to come forward and tell their stories.
This was in preparation for last week's sitting of the CCJ at the Jamaica Conference Centre in downtown Kingston.
The issue reached to a head and the Attorney General's Department was forced to release the names of Avia James of Arnett Gardens, Kingston 12; John Wilson; Troy Rambaran; Naeam Hannah; Andre Davy; Chevine Edwards; Jermaine Blake; and Alkeshia Anderson.
However, only four of the eight actually came forward.
Less than a day after the Jamaica Observer reported Shanique Myrie's claim of being subjected to a dehumanising cavity search and verbal abuse by officials at the Grantley Adams Airport, a lot of Jamaicans with grouses against the Barbadian Government contacted the Observer in an attempt to get their stories told.
Director of Public Prosecutions Paula Llewellyn said that the problem of witnesses failing to come forward in court is a 'monkey' on the back of the legal system.
"We have found it to be a very great challenge to sometimes convince witnesses to come to court," Llewellyn said. "I have been a prosecutor for 27 years and it has been very difficult sometimes to get witnesses to give evidence."
In the social context of Jamaica, many persons are wary of giving evidence for fear of reprisals. The result is that many cases go down the tubes.
Llewellyn argued that although the threat of violence is real, many witnesses hide behind the notion.
"This is a huge contributor to the clogging of the justice system. I personally went to the Gun Court and there was a case where a man drew a gun on a woman who was involved in a domestic dispute with his sister. The woman gave the police a statement, but because the matter took too long to be resolved the complainant did not come to court," Llewellyn said.
Seinor Superintendent Fitz Bailey now heads the St Andrew Central Police Division. Formally Bailey headed the Organised Crime Investigative Division and as a career policeman thinks that Jamaica must repair the justice system before any meaningful ground can be gained.
"It is a fact that we have problems getting witnesses to court. Too many persons who have broken the law are still walking freely. We probably need to get tougher," Bailey told the Observer.
"Maybe because justice is so slow most Jamaicans do not want to come to court. Perhaps we need to improve on our justice system," Bailey added, saying that he had once got to the point of asking the court to subpoena a doctor who had diagnosed that a woman was too mentally affected to appear in court.
One woman who was a complainant in a case of assault said after attending court for 18 months she took the decision not to pursue the matter as it was a waste of her time.
"My employers were not very excited about the fact that I had to go to court every month for one year straight. Things began to get ugly and I took the decision not to work for that person again," the woman said.