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Gov't considering alternative venues for gang trials

Senior staff reporter

Friday, February 14, 2020

JUSTICE Minister Delroy Chuck says gang trials are posing serious problems to the courts and that alternatives are being examined to address the issue, including Up Park Camp, the headquarters of the Jamaica Defence Force.

“It's very difficult to hold them inside the courts...especially when you have multiple defendants, such as 30. We are looking at other possibilities [but] nothing has been decided as yet. We are looking at Up Park Camp to see if we can put up a camp or some other facility, but the logistics have not yet been worked out,” the minister told the Jamaica Observer.

The concern was initially raised by Security Minister Dr Horace Chang at a meeting of the joint select committee, which is reviewing the anti-gang legislation.

He suggested to the committee that the issue should be included in its report to Parliament. “The trials are posing a serious problem to the courts; they totally disrupt the court system when you take a gang case to the Supreme Court, adding that there are also technical challenges to facilitate multiple attorneys for the accused.

Defence counsel, Peter Champagnie, however, was not convinced that there are any serious logistical challenges. He pointed out that only two or three major gang cases have actually been tried in the Supreme Court so far, but that the limited space has been properly utilised, and time management carefully considered.

“... So I don't find it to be disruptive. I wouldn't go so far as to agree that the trials are disruptive. I am not prepared to say it's disruptive in relation to other cases on the building. The challenge, if there is any, is that it's difficult for defence counsel where the numbers of accused are large to have sufficient time and resources, especially when in some instances these are legal aid matters,” he said.

He said it is difficult for legal aid attorneys to commit to one matter for months, and that what could therefore be examined is having special conditions for the granting of legal aid, as was the case in the first major anti-gang trial, which the chief justice presided over.

Champagnie said he does not see the need of going the extreme of moving proceedings to locations outside of justice square downtown Kingston, pointing out to the expansion in courtroom spaces there, including two new gun courts.

“So I don't know that one would have to go so far, we are talking about moving around resources, parking issues, and counsels moving from one central venue to another. There are factors that would come into play,” he argued.

Champagnie said another issue that needs to be addressed is the police being more structured and organised in bringing persons to court on time.

Since the 2014 Criminal Justice (Suppression of Criminal Organisation) Act was passed, there have been 595 related arrests and charges for various breaches of the law, with only two convictions.

Aston Daley, alias “Daley Boy”, of the feared One Order Gang was convicted in April 2017, and Jordan Markland, a member of the notorious Klansman Gang, in January 2017.