Cash for cops

Cash for cops

Cabinet approves $21 million to assist in legal fees for five members of the JCF before the court

Senior staff reporter

Thursday, January 21, 2021

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Chairman of the Police Federation Corporal Rohan James is eyeing an end to the long-running crisis where lawyers representing police officers charged with offences for actions taken in the line of duty withdrawing their services for non-payment of fees.

James is basing his confidence on word emerging from yesterday's post-Cabinet media briefing where it was disclosed that the Cabinet had given its approval for the payment of $21 million towards legal fees of five members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF).

Minister of Education, Youth and Information Fayval Williams told the media briefing that the Cabinet had also approved the establishment of an interim procedure for the management of contribution to legal expenses incurred by members of the JCF for actions taken during lawfully assigned duties.

According to Williams, this will be done pending the finalisation of a formal policy by the Ministry of National Security.

James told the Jamaica Observer that while he was not aware as to which five members the $21 million applied to, this was just a portion of the money submitted by members of the JCF to the Government for outstanding legal fees.

“I do know that several invoices were submitted and the sum total overall would have been in excess of $21 million, but as to the specific invoices it would be going towards I would not be able to tell you if it's for counsel A or counsel Y or for a specific set of matters.

“I know we have submitted the claims towards legal fees in excess of $58 million, as to what it is that has been considered thus far, I would not be able to say which of the specific matters, no verbal or written communication in that respect,” added James as he noted that this has been a sore point for the cops for some time.

The federation head said he was positive that the signals from the Cabinet yesterday would resolve the situation.

“Based on what Cabinet's position is currently and the decisions which have been taken by Cabinet which informs us as to the fee structure and the conduit by which the invoices should be submitted so that members can be assisted, it is one of the clearest positions so far that has been taken.

“So we do not foresee any impediment to members being represented. That is not in doubt going forward because what it will do is enable the commissioner of police to include in his budget provisions for legal fees,” said James.

He pointed to the situation over many years where attorneys pulled their services due to unpaid fees resulting in cases being stalled indefinitely.

“It has caused us grave embarrassment, it has caused long-suffering to the membership because I can say this, without fear of any contradiction, that members have languished for almost 18 years out there with cases pending due to inability to provide the legal fees, which oftentimes that is not settled then it stands the real possibility of counsel being unwilling to proceed.”

According to James, the policy when formalised is expected to result in a more reliable and realistic pool of funds.

“It would afford the commissioner of police based on the issue of the history available to us to incorporate in his budget a component for legal fees which may arise and there is also another component for his consideration which is to ensure that at least you retain counsel and from the retainer the counsel would be assigned tasks and it would be much more impactful in terms of how you utilise the scarce resources,” said James.

In October last year it was revealed that some 100 members of the JCF before the courts for offences committed in the line of duty were facing difficulties defraying legal expenses.

Yesterday Williams took pains to point out that from a previous Cabinet submission it was agreed that the Government would not be paying the legal fees for police officers with cases before the courts but would contribute to the Legal Defence Fund for the police officers.

A Legal Defence Fund had been established through the Heads of Agreement for the contract period 2012 to 2015 between the Government and the five police groups.

The agreement allowed an injection of $20 million to start the fund. Under the 2017 to 2019 Heads of Agreement between the Government and Federation it was agreed that under the heading 'Legal Defence Fund', the Government was prepared to provide the necessary legal support for rank and file members brought before the court, resulting from the legal challenges arising from the execution of their duties.

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