Chief justice blasts police incompetence, scolds lawyer

Chief justice blasts police incompetence, scolds lawyer

Senior staff reporter

Thursday, January 16, 2020

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Two days into the trial of eight alleged members of the deadly Westmoreland-based King Valley Gang, also known as the Lawless Gang, trial judge Chief Justice Bryan Sykes was forced to blast members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force and the legal fraternity following an incident yesterday which forced a premature adjournment of the case.

Justice Sykes was prompt for yesterday's 10:00 am sitting to continue the trial of the men who are now before the Home Circuit Court facing criminal charges, including rape, murder, and aggravated robbery. The court on Tuesday evening left off hearing the testimony of the star prosecution witness who testified via live video link from a remote location.

Yesterday, however, the absence of a police officer held the trial at ransom. The room from which the individual testifies is manned by a police constable, an inspector of police, two independent lawyers and a high court registrar.

A senior prosecutor from the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions told the judge when he enquired, about 10:20 am, that a police officer was not in place at the remote location where the witness was testifying via video link, adding that no explanation had been given for the individual's absence but he had been told that someone would be in place in short order.

“I can't understand how the police keep the same level of inefficiency day in, day out, year in, year out. From I started working in the system it has been the same issues every single day. They are late more often than not. The court hasn't moved, the places haven't moved, and they can't be in place. Thirty years, and when I talk people get upset. This does not require special genius, all it requires is common sense,” Justice Sykes said.

By this time an inspector of police appeared on the screen but no constable was in sight.

“We have gone 65 minutes now,” Justice Sykes noted, at which point he was told by the senior prosecutor, “less than 10 minutes ago I was told they had identified an officer. I'm embarrassed to say they don't expect it to take more than an hour to get to the remote location”.

“Gentlemen, stand. The trial cannot continue. This is really incompetence of the highest order. The date for trial has been set in excess of several months; this is not new. I've been sitting here for nearly 70 minutes now waiting for the police to be at the remote location. That is incompetence, not even inefficiency. So if the police force cannot, after a hundred years, have a constable at a remote location what else can they do?” Justice Sykes stated, in addressing the eight prisoners.

“This is clearly an exercise of great intellectual effort that is going to be taking two hours?” he continued sarcastically.

“The lawyers who are here have things to do; I am not prepared to sit here waiting for this. So we are finished for the day. This is incompetency; it is disrespectful and it shows the level of regard the police have for the Supreme Court, which is really none. We will see whether tomorrow they will be ready,” he said further.

Addressing the main witness he said, “We will ask you to return tomorrow at 10:00 am. They will have all of 24 hours.”

Yesterday Sykes also chewed out a member of the legal fraternity for entering the courtroom adorned in only a shirt and tie.

“Is there a shortage of coats?” the trial judge enquired before proceeding to chastise the individual for flouting the rules of the court and not attiring himself appropriately.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday, at the beginning of the trial, Sykes had rapped missing attorney-at-law Everton Bird, who represents two of the men on trial. The attorney had submitted two medical certificates and a letter of explanation to the court regarding his absence. Justice Sykes, however, was far from placated.

“I regard this as out of order behaviour; there is a letter to the court purportedly signed by Mr Bird containing a medical certificate which says he has a medical condition and is unfit for work. As far as I am concerned, Mr Bird is a seasoned attorney and acquainted with the rules. This is not how it's done. What he ought to have done is, at the very least, speak to one of the attorneys in the matter and seek to have his clients adequately represented. That is the responsibility of counsel,” Justice Sykes said.

“I do not regard this as an application for adjournment, just his inability to attend. This is a special-measure case with [several] defendants represented by multiple attorneys and these persons have been in custody since November 2018,” he noted. Justice Sykes said Bird had submitted two medical certificates, the first of which said he was unfit for seven days which would have ended on Wednesday, January 15, and another for five days beginning Monday (January 13).

The chief justice's agitation came even as the court was informed that in the case of the special witness, the Crown was of the view that the witness, who was said to have expressed fear, is vulnerable and that there was “sufficient evidence that the witness along with family members have been targeted”.

Even after being informed that Bird had in fact been injured in a car accident on King Street in downtown Kingston by an attorney who had been involved in the incident as well, Justice Sykes was unrelenting.

“Nonetheless, the attorney has a responsibility as a lawyer. It is unfortunate that he was in an accident but it does not absolve him of his responsibility. If he cannot be here he should make arrangements for his clients to be adequately represented. This is not good enough,” he said.

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