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Big rush on

Legal Aid Council moving swiftly to file for release of more mentally ill detainees

Observer writer

Saturday, July 04, 2020

BLACK RIVER, St Elizabeth — Executive director of Legal Aid Council (LAC) Hugh Faulkner says the council will be moving swiftly to file for the release of more mentally ill detainees who have been incarcerated for decades without trial.

“We will be filing 10 [cases] in the St Andrew Parish Court,” Faulkner told journalists yesterday outside St Elizabeth Parish Court, where 49-year-old Abraham Lawrence was granted bail after more than 20 years of being incarcerated without trial.

“We won't release the names [of those we are seeking to release] as yet as I find that the list sometimes is not accurate, so you may have on the list persons who might have been released, persons who are deceased, and persons who are now fit [to plead]. We are now doing all the fine-tuning and then we will be stepping in faith, because we are hoping that the family members of the 10 [detainees] will come forward,” Faulkner said.

Lawrence is the latest citizen whose case has attracted national attention and outrage following an Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) report on the death of 81-year-old Noel Chambers in January. Chambers spent 40 years in prison without trial.

“…These persons are generally from 1999, over 20 years, and these are parish court matters. Even if a person was to be incarcerated for a most egregious matter, parish court matters are not felonies – malicious destruction of property, assault occasioning grievous bodily harm, things like that. These persons ought to be assisted so we will be taking the step to file 10, and we are trusting that when we publish the names that the family members will come forward,” Faulkner said.

He is urging relatives of mentally ill persons in correctional facilities to contact the Legal Aid Council for assistance.

“If your family member is in the correctional facilities and Bellevue is not willing to take them, then we rely on a relative to come forward. The court will not release a mentally ill [individual] into the open space as a homeless person…The duties [of the family] are simple – just to ensure the general well-being of the person,” he said.

Faulkner disclosed that petitions have been filed to the governor general (GG) for the release of nine other detainees who went to trial but were later deemed mentally ill. “Attorney Nancy Anderson filed the petitions on our behalf to the GG,” he said.

Lawrence was admitted into the custody of the Department of Correctional Services in 1999 after he was arrested in relation to an altercation during which he allegedly threw stones at a group of men in Huntley Castle district, St Elizabeth. A police service vehicle was damaged during the altercation.

Senior parish court judge, Ann-Marie Grainger granted Lawrence bail in the sum of $10,000. “You will be looking about him to ensure he is taken care of,” Judge Grainger told Lawrence's brother.

A psychiatrist's report, which was requested for Lawrence, was not ready for court yesterday.

Lawrence's attorney, Yushaine Gordon, had asked that the court grant his client bail. Lawrence is scheduled to see a resident psychiatrist next Thursday and return to court in Santa Cruz on Friday.

A smiling Lawrence was greeted by his two brothers and grandnephew outside the St Elizabeth Parish Court.

“Long time mi nuh see dem,” Lawrence said in reference to his two brothers, Silvan and Llewelyn Lawrence.

“I feel good, because it has been years that we [have been trying] to get out my brother [Abraham],” Silvan Lawrence told the Jamaica Observer.

Last week, 71-year-old George Williams was freed when he appeared in the St Catherine Parish Court after more than 50 years in prison without trial..

The Ministry of Justice's Legal Aid Council, in a press release on Tuesday, stated that it is providing legal representation for two mentally ill detainees who are set to be released this month. Lawrence was one of those two detainees. The other is Morris Small, who is set to appear before the Trelawny Parish Court on July 30.