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Buses with audio-video technology to secure testimony from witnesses

Sunday, July 21, 2019

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KINGSTON, Jamaica — The Ministry of Justice will be providing two buses, equipped with audio-video technology, to assist in securing testimony from witnesses in trial matters.

This was disclosed by Portfolio Minister Delroy Chuck who said the vehicles, which will be rolled out soon, will be used to travel to remote areas where witnesses may be located.

These, he said, are among the initiatives underpinning the ministry's commitment to safeguarding witnesses against intimidation and advancing their role in the justice process.

The minister's speech was delivered by Executive Director of the Legal Aid Council, Hugh Faulkner, during the opening of the two-day Witness Care Conference, at the Faculty of Law, University of the West Indies, Mona, St Andrew, on Friday.

Chuck said other initiatives include equipping 78 courtrooms with digital audio facilities, and 19 with audio-video recording apparatus, noting that "with this technology, witness intimidation will be significantly reduced."

Additionally, the minister said legislation has been passed to allow witnesses in human trafficking cases being tried in the Circuit Court, to testify before presiding judges without a jury.

"Our goal, mission and purpose at the Ministry of Justice is to create a first class justice system that delivers timely justice to all, irrespective of their socio-economic circumstances," Chuck emphasised.

It is against this background that the ministry is a significant partner in the Conference, "because we know that a first class justice system cannot exist without the proper care and protection of witnesses".

He expressed hope that the forum would facilitate stakeholder dialogue on a public awareness campaign to educate the general populace that locating and procuring witnesses is a "shared responsibility".

"Discussions will range from creating an enabling environment for witness safety and security, to psycho-social interventions and services for witnesses. There will also be a focus on vulnerable witnesses as well as discussions on designing multicare systems that involve different agencies," the minister said.

These engagements, Chuck pointed out, are intended to provide a "wealth of information" that should be used as "critical investments" to yield "tangible results" for the care of witnesses.

This, he added, is imperative in spurring civic-minded Jamaicans into action, and sending a message to the criminal underworld that "witnesses will not cower in fear, but will be motivated to stand and be counted and play their part in creating a society that is secure, cohesive and just."

Meanwhile, Canada's High Commissioner to Jamaica Laurie Peters, who also spoke, underscored the relationship between the countries in engagements tailored to advance the local justice sector.

"We (Canada) have been a longstanding and steadfast partner with Jamaica, in terms of putting forth, supporting, partnering on a series of reform-focused...reform-centric programmes, all designed to advance a comprehensive and systematic approach to justice modernisation," Peters said.

In this regard, she said the Canadian government is honoured to be a partner in the conference's staging.

The inaugural event is a key activity under the Justice Undertakings for Social Transformation (JUST) Project.

The project is a $19.8 million Global Affairs Canada (GAC)-funded initiative, being implemented by the Justice Ministry and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

It is supporting justice sector reforms through technical-legal assistance; institutional strengthening; and social order.

Peters said the conference forms part of the JUST Programme's Social Order Component which seeks to facilitate equitable access to justice services for all persons, particularly the most vulnerable.

"It is commendable that Jamaica has understood and embraced the importance of focusing on witnesses at this time," she added.

In her remarks, UNDP Resident Representative, Denise Antonio, noted that witnesses are integral to the court system, "and should be able to exercise their full participation in civil and criminal matters."

She pointed out that a well-functioning justice sector is a precondition to spurring economic growth, adding that "equal access to justice by every citizen is tantamount to human development."

Against this background,Antonio said the UNDP reaffirms its commitment to partnering with the Government of Jamaica and other stakeholders, "to continue to support the country in advancing its justice priorities."

Activities on the first day also included a public forum on the theme: 'Comparative Perspectives on Witness Care: Challenges, Best Practices, and Lessons Learnt'.

The presenters included Director of Public Prosecutions, Paula Llewelyn; and Canadian Federal Court Judge, Justice Douglas Campbell.

The conference, which ended on Saturday, was intended to discuss and advance solutions for the protection and support of witnesses in the Jamaican judicial system.


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