Mental Health Task Force to review prison laws, policiesTuesday, June 09, 2020
KINGSTON, Jamaica — The Judiciary of Jamaica says the Chief Justice has established a Mental Health Task Force that is to look at the present law, practice, policies, and procedures relating to inmates with mental illness.
This is in response to the publication of the INDECOM report which highlighted the case of 81-year old Noel Chambers, who died earlier this year while in custody at the Tower Street Adult Correctional Centre in Kingston.
Chambers, who had been incarcerated since February 1980, died after serving 40 years in prison without ever being convicted of an offence or tried.
In a statement today from the Court Administration Division, the judiciary acknowledged that many institutions, including the courts, failed in their duty to safeguard Chambers' right to life, liberty, and a fair trial.
The report from the task force is expected within the next 120 days.
Meanwhile, the judiciary said all the cases involving persons in custody with mental illness will be immediately reviewed and appropriate decisions made.
Read the full statement below:
“The Judiciary of Jamaica is deeply saddened by the passing of Noel Chambers. We are further saddened by the fact that systemic challenges within the Judiciary could have contributed to this tragedy. We express our sincerest sympathies and apologise to his family, friends, community and by extension every Jamaican.
It is clear that many institutions, including the courts failed in their duty to safeguard the right of Mr Chambers to life, liberty, and a fair trial within a reasonable time before a properly constituted and impartial court. Mr Chambers was victimized several times. The failure to have him before the courts at regular intervals resulted in him being overlooked which ended in his death. This is not to happen again.
Section 25D of the Criminal Justice (Administration) Act makes provision for a monthly report to be tabled with the court on persons adjudged not fit to plead and are remanded in custody, and also for a register to be kept by the court of these persons. Not all information is available on the case of Mr Chambers, but at this stage it is reasonable to say that this did not happen. The systemic failure is compounded by the fact that in 2001 the Honourable Mr Justice Lensley Wolfe OJ, Chief Justice issued a Practice Note on March 5, 2001 that mandated that a register be kept of persons in custody with mental illness. The Note indicated that monthly report should be made to the court.
This systemic failure, and particularly that of the courts, highlights the need for a change of culture. On the part of the courts, this means that all judges must accept that the courts are responsible to manage all cases, civil or criminal, in a manner that they are disposed of within the twenty-four month time standard that has been established. We are not yet there, but significant work is being done to get to this standard.
In response to the publication of the INDECOM report, the Chief Justice has established a Mental Health Task Force that is to look at the present law, practice, policies, and procedures relating to persons in custody with mental illness. The report of the task force is expected within the next one hundred and twenty (120) days.
In the meantime, all the cases involving persons in custody with mental illness will be reviewed and appropriate decisions, within the law, will be made. The review will commence immediately. In this regard, the courts will be working closely with the Department of Corrections and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.
This case highlights the need for an adequate records and information management system within the courts. This is a priority area for the judiciary and was included in the strategic plan as an area in need of improvement if we are to become one of the best Judiciaries in the world. The judiciary must be provided with the necessary resources to bring about the transformation that all Jamaicans wish to see.
Finally, Chief Justice Sykes has reiterated to the judges at all levels of the courts their role in the management of cases from entry into the court system to disposal and their duty to ensure a fair trial for all, within a reasonable time. This is the right of every litigant.
The Judiciary of Jamaica is committed to continually improving the service that we provide to Jamaicans and all court users.”