Columns

Too 'hot', too hard, too much

Jean
Lowrie-Chin

Monday, February 05, 2018

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In the month of January of this year five children in Jamaica lost their lives in fires — two girls perished at the Walker's Place of Safety, and only last week we learned that three infants, one-year-old twin brothers and a two-year-old girl died in a fire in Cockburn Pen. Thank goodness that a resident, the heroic D'Money Johnson, was able to save two other infants.

Jamaica Observer reporter Moya Hinds quoted Johnson: “It never so easy. Mi did have to try hard though fi save that small one... I could only save two. I couldn't save the twins on the bed because it explode. The candle ketch on pon the gas pan... everything dun deh so. In there too hot.”

Jamaica is distressingly 'too hot'; our children are losing their lives in fire and in gunfire. It is alleged that the children in Cockburn Pen had been left unattended and there is an enquiry into the fire at Walker's Place of Safety.

Last year we learned that, in the parish of Clarendon, 14-year-old Shaniel Bartley was shot dead at her mother's workplace where she was taken for protection after threats from a rapist. And a day later, in the same parish, six-year-old Timothy Bassaragh was shot dead in a home invasion. Over 50 Jamaican children were murdered last year.

Then there are the children left motherless and fatherless by the other 1,500 homicides in 2017, and the over 120 since the beginning of this year. If there is no intervention by social workers and the Church, more traumatised children could become part of the vicious cycle of violence that is gripping our nation.

That heartless headline

As if children are not suffering enough, along comes a headline in a Jamaican tabloid, casting a victim as a consenting party in a disgusting video of child abuse. I join with UNICEF Jamaica representative Mark Connolly who noted that the headline was “appalling and unacceptable”.

“The headline suggests sexual activity of a consensual nature,” stated Connolly. “We are certain that the… editorial team is aware that a young child cannot provide consent under the law. This child was a victim. Her right to protection from sexual abuse was horribly violated. She was then doubly victimised by this headline. By placing a headline of this nature on the front page of the newspaper it gave sensational prominence to a grave issue plaguing scores of children whether in Trinidad, Jamaica or across the Caribbean, and disgracefully turned attention on the victim, rather than the perpetrator.”

Justice delayed, justice denied

In the endless discussions on crime we are reminded that there are thousands of cases awaiting trial in Jamaica, and that until we have a swift and sure justice system we will never see the end of our distress. This takes me back to an address given by former Prime Minister Bruce Golding at the Annual Lay Magistrate's Awards event last December.

“A justice system that works is indispensable feature of modern, stable, efficient society,” he stated. “It is also an essential part in controlling crime. More effective investigation and apprehension is, of course, crucial but the speed with which criminals are tried and punished would strengthen the deterrent against committing crime. To a person who is reasonably assured of bail and several years before being brought to trial, crime may not be that costly a risk.”

Noting that “our justice system creaks”, he shared the following alarming figures:

• Parish courts, the main plank of the justice system, handles 96 per cent of cases.

• Some 367,260 cases were filed in 2015; 135 per 1,000 of the population vs global norm of 18 per 1,000.

• Only 25,000 (four per cent dealt with in Petty Sessions (Lay Magistrates' Court)

• Our courts are plainly unable to deal with that volume. Backlog at end of 2015 stood at 392,000 cases.

• Traffic offences made up almost half of cases filed and 37 per cent of the backlog.

Golding said that those 367,000 cases per annum for 46 judges would equal 7,500 cases per judge, requiring the impossible task of disposing of 30 cases per day. He noted that the Justice System Reform Task Force (June 2007) recommended greater use of petty sessions and a name-change to “Lay Magistrates' Court”.

“Greater use of Lay Magistrates Courts to deal with the less serious cases would allow the Parish Courts to deal more expeditiously with the more serious criminal cases,” Golding offered. To address the lack of courtroom space, he said the justice minister had the power to declare stations where any court can sit, and so community centres, church halls, and other suitable locations could be used.

Regarding the shortage of clerks of the courts to prosecute cases, he noted that the US allowed advanced law students to practise, under supervision, in the courts, and that the senior parish judge could select appropriate cases for such assistance.

Solidarity with Yugge Farrell

I joined with over 200 signatories in a regional statement, titled 'Amend the Mental Health Act of St Vincent and the Grenadines NOW'. The matter regarding the arrest of Vincentian model Yugge Farrell on January 4 after she uttered an expletive at the prime minister's daughter-in-law was noted by fellow Observer columnist Dr Franklin Johnston a few weeks ago. The following are excerpts from the statement (see full statement on my blog):

“We, the undersigned, condemn in the strongest possible terms, the persecution and mistreatment of Yugge Farrell by the legal, medical, and political authorities of St Vincent and the Grenadines... Farrell was arrested on January 4, 2018 and charged with the use of abusive language to Karen Duncan-Gonsalves, the wife of Finance Minister Camillo Gonsalves and daughter-in-law of Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves. After pleading not guilty, an application was made by the prosecutor for Farrell to be confined to the Mental Health Centre for two weeks for psychiatric evaluation, as allowed under the nation's Mental Health Act... it appears that medication was administered to Farrell, although the Mental Health Act only speaks to observation and evaluation of persons... After the initial observation period passed, Farrell was detained for a third week and only released on bail on January 29, 2018.”

This is a frightening scenario, and we hope that justice will prevail when Yugge Farrell's trial date comes in December.

lowriechin@aim.com

www.lowrie-chin.blogspot. com

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