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Domestic disputes worry Chuck, despite murder drop

BY ALPHEA SAUNDERS
Senior staff reporter
saundersa@jamaicaobserver.com

Monday, October 15, 2018

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Minister of Justice Delroy Chuck has expressed concern that despite the reduction in murders across Jamaica, there are still “far too many” domestic disputes among Jamaicans which end in violence.

“We are very happy to see the murder rate going down but when you look at the number of assault occasioning bodily harm, unlawful wounding, wounding with intent occurring in the family courts and the supreme court, many of these could have resulted in murders, and these are domestic situations. So even though a lot of murders are committed by gangs, we still have far too many domestic quarrels that end up in violence, and that is something our society will have to deal with,” Chuck stated, while speaking at the ministry's quarterly press briefing last Thursday.

He stressed that far too many cases associated with domestic violence are coming into the island's courts. “People are using violence threats, and brutish stupidity to settle arguments and as far as I'm concerned, we need less matters to come to the courts…we would like to see a society where people can resolve their problems by negotiation, by mediation, rather than with violence,” he stated.

“For one reason or another, people just don't know how to get along and they feel that once the dispute starts, the best way to resolve it is a 'last lick”. “Our culture of violence which pervades far too many communities, we have to find alternative ways to settle matters…the amount of disputes over what one would consider to be really minor matters that the society, the courts, the police have to deal with and eventually the hospital,” he said.

Chuck warned that if the country does not address these problems it will not attain first world status. “At all levels we have to start behaving like civilised people and address our problems in a decent normal civilised way rather than we think we have to take up a stone, a machete, a gun… and settle the argument,” he stated.

Figures from the parish court statistics reports for January to June show that there was an average of 2,451 new criminal cases filed across all parishes monthly, with a total of 14,824 new criminal cases entering the courts for the first six months of 2018.

Although the overall clearance rate for the second quarter of 2018 was 98 per cent — an improvement of nine per cent over the first quarter — the figures indicate that there are still more new cases filed than cases disposed of across parish courts.

He said that the ministry has been making sustained efforts to encourage people to engage in mediation to settle disputes, and to divert cases away from the courts. He noted that there is ongoing training for justices of the peace, and other stakeholders to foster mediation, instead of litigation. He said this also leads to more plea bargaining, which will ease the pressure off the courts and save time in the justice system.

Chuck said that the ministry also intends to train 3,000 restorative justice facilitators in schools and communities, and has been opening more justice centres.

He pointed out also that for repeat offenders, crime and violence begin in childhood, eventually adding to the strain on the court system. He said that when the Child Diversion Act is rolled out this should help by assisting children to resolve their problems and conform to acceptable behaviour. However, he said that if children do come in contact with the law, they would be diverted away from the courts.

“Many of our crimminals actually started their life of crime from a young age and if they were really corrected in those teenage years they may not have become hardened crimminals. When you go into the prisons and you see the recidivists, who can't function in the society you recognise that from age 10, 12 they have been in various Government institutions and therefore continue to be supported at taxpayers' expenses right until they die,” the justice minister explained.

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