Last week Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Justice Bryan Sykes berated the Police for what he sees as a perpetual problem of inefficiency and tardiness.
Chief Justice Sykes was speaking specifically of what he construed to be the tardiness of police witnesses to turn up for hearings and give testimony in cases before the courts.
“I can’t understand how the police keep the same level of inefficiency day in, day out, year in, year out.”
“From I started working in the system it has been the same issues every single day. They are late, more often than not. The court hasn’t moved, the places haven’t moved, and they can’t be in place. Thirty years, and when I talk people get upset. This does not require special genius, all it requires is common sense.”
Oh boy, I have known Byran Sykes from the late 80s when he was a low-level clerk of the Courts at Half Way Tree, he was a rather soft-spoken unassuming man, who made mistakes like the rest of us.
Sykes did not stand out enough then, to warrant attention as a man who was enthusiastic about prosecuting criminals.
Simply put, Byran Sykes was a regular cog in the slow inefficient wheel of justice at the time, nothing more nothing less.
With that said, the police department like every public sector body, has its own share of deadwood. If Chief Justice Sykes wishes to speak the truth he will agree that many of his colleagues in the judiciary are misfits as well. Some Magistrates and Judges should hardly be magistrates and judges in the same way that many cops should never don a police officer’s uniform.
Chief Justice Sykes blasted the police as he waited for a police witness to show up for a case he was hearing.
“This is really incompetence of the highest order. The date for trial has been set in excess of several months; this is not new. I’ve been sitting here for nearly 70 minutes now waiting for the police to be at the remote location. That is incompetence, not even inefficiency. So if the police force cannot, after a hundred years, have a constable at a remote location, what else can they do?”
I do understand the frustration of the Chief Justice, and to some degree, I subscribe to some of his comments. On the other hand, I wonder whether or not the learned Chief Justice had bothered to get one of his aides to find out the reason the officer was late?
After all, being a police officer is no easy feat. Being a police officer in Jamaica is doubly and triply more difficult, than being an officer elsewhere.
“Are we going to do any work or are we going to sit here the whole day? I need to know what the position is. It is now 10 minutes to 11. We can’t sit here waiting and waiting and waiting with no end in sight; no witnesses, none here to testify, not one. No court can operate like that, something needs to happen. This is absolutely outrageous.” Sykes lamented.
I hope the leadership of the police department sees these comments and for the love of God make a change. Not to bully the people they supervise, but to work toward greater efficiency and competence.
As the Chief Justice lamented, courts cannot operate without witnesses in place. Neither can everyone be available and police officers fail to show. There have to be ways to make police witnesses more available to the courts when they are involved in investigations.
A senior prosecutor with the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, in providing the judge with an update, then said:
“I cannot say when they will arrive, but about 15 minutes ago I was told the witnesses were on the toll road.”
This means that the officer was in communication with the Prosecutor and was not shirking his obligation to be in court.
Said a far-from-pleased Justice Sykes: “So, in other words, we are just going to wait and wait and wait; same occurrence last week. This is a recurring problem and it is not just this court, it is happening across the island.”
It happens across the Island because we have one police department which services the entire Island.
The JCF which has one of the lowest officers to citizen ratio in the world is overworked and underpaid.
The JCF has approximately 11,000 members, but loses about 50 officers each month to attrition. That figure does not represent people who are retiring.
According to a 2012 study by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) of seven Caribbean countries, including Jamaica, the ratio of police officers to civilians in Jamaica was 1 officer per 273 inhabitants, which was the lowest police presence per capita of the seven Caribbean countries surveyed (UN 2012, 95)
Let that sink in mister Chief Justice.
It seems to me that you are barking up the wrong tree here.
At 10:58 am, a court officer indicated to prosecutors that the witnesses were in the parking lot.
At 11:04 am the first witness was called.
The fact that the force is so short-staffed and overworked as a result of normal duties, State of Emergencies and having to man Zones Of Special Operations, is no small matter.
I have no interest in making excuses for the Constabulary, but those who work within the system must understand the limitations of the system.
Chief Justice Sykes is frustrated, there is nothing wrong with that, but the Police are also frustrated with Chief Justice Sykes’ colleagues turning loose the criminals they arrest and bring before the courts.
His colleagues commit gross malpractice daily across the country, under the guise that the bail act forces then to let loose violent offenders, and that they have a duty to try to reform violent murderers.
The Chief Justice (a good man I suppose), but he should pay attention to his dirty yard, before he criticizes his neighbor’s yard.
Violent murderers are given bail up to six times, killing each time they are given bail, arrested and given bail by Sykes’ morally bankrupt colleagues.
Police officers who interact with crime generally come from a small pool of overworked officers bearing the title “Detective”. At every scene of crime it is the very same people (in the particular division) that a criminal act is committed who shows up.
Generally, those Detectives handle an inordinate amount of cases which puts them under severe pressure to cope. This limits the quality of their work, it influences their ability to show up to court on time. It also affects their family life, something the nation and Chief Justice Sykes does not consider.
Jamaica is not a developed country, as such Sykes’ fight is not with the police department, it ought to be with Government.
Sykes cannot be a bully and take his frustrations out on the weakest link.
He either knows that these issues exist or he is simply pontificating for the media.
Many years ago, a bully, Lensley Wolfe, who was on the high court, was hearing a case in which I was the Detective handling the case.
I arrived at the Gun court five minutes after the case was called and Wolfe lit into me.
I am sure he believed that the fact that most Jamaicans call them [mi lord] clown suit and all, I was intimidated, or afraid of him.
As he began to berate me for being late. He could not bother to call me up to speak to me respectfully. Nah he was the mighty Judge and I was a mere foot-soldier cop.
I stopped him dead in his tracks, “stop”! I told him.
” I am not the prisoner in the dock, if you were a judge of any stature that is where your ire should be directed not at me”.
“I am no intimidated by you”, I told him.
He commenced arguing in typical infantile bully-like fashion. “I am not afraid of your Federation”. I laughed in his face and informed him that I did not care about the Federation either, but I thought that the Privy Council may have something to say about his ignorance.
All of the officers in the courtroom ran outside, hands on their heads, never in their lifetime had an officer so dressed down an ignorant judge.
Lensley Wolfe was known as a disrespectful bully, many officers were afraid of him. I guess that may have played a part in my desire to bust him down to size, bloody his nose.
I doubt that he ever tried to disrespect an officer after that incident.
On that occasion in question, I had worked from 7:45 am to 1:00pm the previous day, then resumed duties at 6:00pm, worked all through the night until 8:00 am on the morning of our clash.
I then went home to take a shower, (remember no sleep), got dressed, then stop at the Half-Way Tree Court’s office to submit charging information in another case.
Since the Gun court was a higher court than Half-Way-Tree Magistrates court, I had to be absent from Half-Way-Tree court in order to attend the Gun Court, and God forbid be five minutes late.
My travels to court were in my private car, I received not a single penny from the Government for the extra hours I put in or for gas for my car.
Exhausted, I was not about to take no shit from a pompous fool in a clown costume.
Chief Justice Sykes occupies a distinguished and elevated office from which he can, and should, use his influence to effect change.
Nevertheless, as the Rt Honorable Robert Nesta Marley said ” wid di abundance of wata di fool still ded fi turs”, with all the powers at his disposal, if the chief justice does not know how to use it, it is still power in the hands of a fool.
Mike Beckles is a former Jamaican police Detective corporal, businessman, researcher, and blogger.
He is a black achiever honoree, and publisher of the blog chatt-a-box.com.
He’s also a contributor to several websites.
You may subscribe to his blogs free of charge, or subscribe to his Youtube channel @chatt-a-box, for the latest podcast all free to you of course.