Justice David Batts Jamaican Supreme court judge has ruled that the police have no power, under the Road Traffic Act, to arbitrarily stop and search motor vehicles, opening the door for a flood of lawsuits.
This was reported on in one of the country’s news paper, the Jamaica Daily Gleaner. The story prompted wide interest from the online community this blogger included. The case which prompted the ruling involved complainant Gary Hemans, a taxi driver who was represented by attorney-at-law Sean Kinghorn, had sued the attorney general to recover damages arising from his ordeal. Hemans testified that he and other family members were coming from the Hellshire Beach in St Catherine on May 16, 2007, when they were stopped at the Hellshire roundabout by three police officers. He said when he inquired why they were so aggressive, he was beaten and taken to the Portmore Police Station, where he was locked up until the next day. Hemans said that at the station, he was forced to strip and squat in a corner, and he felt humiliated and embarrassed. He said he was charged with assaulting the police, using abusive language, and using indecent language. The taxi operator attended court several times, but the case was dismissed for want of prosecution because the police did not attend. Batts awarded Hemans aggravated damages of $1.2 million for being forced to strip and stoop at the station, and due to the fact that the police officers did not attend court. http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130630/lead/lead1.html
The judge went into a protracted explanation of what he thought the law meant during the ruling which may be seen at the link above, we will get back to the ruling. Sometime ago in a letter published in the same medium I called on the Commissioner of Police Owen Ellington to take a stronger stance against officers who arrest people , lock them up and do nothing more, it ends there. This problem is an age-old one where cops make an arrest, writes up a complaint(information) submits it to the court and does nothing else.
In my appeal to the commissioner I indicated to him that it falls on the middle managers to make sure that these simple yet critical issues are addressed.http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20101105/letters/letters1.html
Quote: I ask the commissioner of police to seriously look at policemen who arrest people and do not complete the process of case preparation that is necessary to gain a conviction. I am all too familiar with lazy cops who bring the JCF into ridicule and disrepute. End quote: This appeal was made as far back as November of 2010, my suggestion was not acted upon.
The result is 1) a cash award against the impoverished state, 2) the potential flood-gate of similar law-suits to come, and 3) probably most significantly, a muddying of the rules governing Police ability to use traffic stops to cut serious crimes.
On reading the Judge’s ruling I was incensed, Jamaican judges are some of the most liberal activist judges anywhere,they have demonstrated by words and deeds that their views about the impact of crime on the fabric of society and social order are somewhere in the 1950’s.
We have consistently sought to bring attention to this issue, we believe that despite strong punitive remedies in the law for serious offences, in many cases Jamaican judges circumvent or supplant their own emotions and political feelings into the dispensation of justice, resulting in the justice system becoming a laughing stock. This has metastasized in a whole slew of other problems for the country .
It may be noted that despite the proliferation of social-media which makes access to information much more readily available, like a large cross section of the population , Judges of the Island nation seem oblivious to what is really happening outside Jamaica. The tone and text or even the verbiage they use does not always reflect the realities of the 21 st century.
In far too many instances their words and actions does not reflect their positions as independent triers of facts,but more so, as liberal activists of the University of the West Indies. Many of the Island judges haven’t reconciled that they work for the people.
Having said that, I went back and looked at the ruling the following day, a single word jumped out at me. I sought to put my anger under control as I read the ruling, despite getting the feeling that the ruling was written by the defense team of the plaintiff, I was able to reconcile in my mind that the learned judge did not break any new ground regarding the way police officers do their job.
All because of one word, (arbitrarily) in the first paragraph of the report that word actually calmed my anger. I have no further quarrel with the judge, and I will not elevate his ruling any further, suffice to say, he is correct. This ruling puts the ball squarely back onto the court of the police department.
The police does not and should not have the right to arbitrarily pull people and search their vehicles without probable cause. Probable cause in law is, simply having a good lawful reason for their actions. Police department all over the civilized world uses the road traffic law to thwart criminals who would use major thoroughfares to further their criminal undertakings.
Cops in Jamaica are obviously too stupid, or too lazy to intelligently lay out a credible case for simple traffic stops. I am totally aware that Jamaican law favors criminals, it is more profitable to break some than to obey them, most people the world over, recognizes this by now. However how dumb and unimaginative are the cops in this particular case?
Literally every motor vehicle plying Jamaica’s thoroughfares may reasonably and lawfully be pulled over from one breech or another. Smart cop needs only be patient, follow and observe. In other cases the vehicles have imperfections which makes pulling them over totally justified.
Didn’t many people argue that they would get officers with degrees to do the job? How is it then that the force has gone from 70% clear-up of serious crimes just over two decades ago to 7% today? Not just that, even then, the cases which result in a conviction are sometimes overturned on appeals. Are we to accept that with all the people with degrees joining the department from what Wilmott (Mutty )Perkins termed “the intellectual ghetto” the force is getting worse?
Commissioner Ellington I know you are constrained by an intransigent political establishment. The establishment comprises people from both political parties, many of whom are criminals. I am empathetic toward you because of the many criminals which are scattered throughout your own department. Of the many challenges you face including the many and varied individuals, groups and organizations dedicated toward aiding and comforting criminals, we understand and support you.
But on this issue you get no support from me. That a case would turn out this way, that a judge could grandstand at the expense of an entire law enforcement agency because of the actions of a few tardy cops is unforgivable. In that open letter I wrote to you I spoke about members bringing the Agency into disrepute,this affects how stops are conducted . Commissioner Ellington this is disrepute.
There is a significant yet unsustainable level of incompetence and utter disregard to simple protocol in your department. That mister Commissioner is on you, when a team does badly they don’t fire the team mister Commissioner,they fire the coach.