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Pressure on the Justice System

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A convict who was serving a prison sentence for murder had his sentence reduced in the first instance, and at a later date on the advice of the Mercy Committee he was released from prison. He thereafter executed his ex- wife. In a more recent incident, an attorney in the high profile Peter Joseph murder case blurted out the place of abode of a key witness.{{more}}

Public Concern

The two recent incidents have had many citizens pointing critically to the justice system and its ability/inability to give meaningful protection to those who require it. The discussions around us suggest that the persons are concerned about the level of crime. They are also troubled over the fact that criminals have been allowed to walk free simply because witnesses are unwilling to mount the stand to give evidence.

If people are afraid to do their civic duties, it means that justice would not be served. It is in the interest of justice and the safety of witnesses that consideration must be given for their protection. This means that they could be whisked away to some unknown destination until the trial. Requiring a witness to leave his/her family could only be done at the expense of tremendous personal sacrifice. In the Peter Joseph murder trial, the key witness cried uncontrollably when her whereabouts were disclosed under heavy cross-examination. It is the duty of the defence to carry out thorough cross-examination of witnesses in the interest of the rights of the accused, but this must not be done at the expense of the safety of the witness. Care must be taken not to jeopardize the life of witnesses who are helping the justice system.

The court was quick to respond as the presiding judge adjourned the case immediately and I am sure that the prosecution assured the witness that alternative accommodation would be provided. She returned later to the cross examination with more confidence.

Preparation for release

Many persons who oppose the death sentence believe that criminals do not commit murder a second time but this has been proven wrong on many occasions. Evidence of such occurrence is as recent as November 1st 2008, when Anita Mc Kie was shot by her ex-husband after his release from prison here in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Certainly he must have disguised his intention so carefully that his jailers believed he was fit to return to society. After given a death sentence for the murder of George Forbes the sentence was commuted to life imprisonment by the Court of Appeal and he was later released through the efforts of the Mercy Committee. This incidence shows, no doubt, the need for greater observation and perhaps more attention to counseling in preparation for release. Efforts to rehabilitate and reintegrate into the society must be undertaken long before release. The receiving family must be prepared for the person who is coming back to them because many changes and adjustments would have occurred while the person was incarcerated.

Ada Johnson is a solicitor and barrister-at-law.
E-mail address is: [email protected]