Commission to probe abuse by security forces

KINGSTON, Jamaica: The Senate has approved an independent commission to investigate complaints from citizens of abuse by members of the island’s security forces. It has adopted a Report of a Joint Select Committee of Parliament, which reviewed legislation for the establishment of the commission.

Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Senator Dorothy Lightbourne, said the committee, after hearing submissions from stakeholders, felt the commission should be empowered to address matters that fall outside the provisions of the Bill, but are also considered abuse of citizens’ rights.

“Amendments are proposed to the definition of incident, to include such misconduct of the security forces against citizens that, while not amounting to death, injury, assault, battery or damage to property, ought to be investigated by the commission, because they are of such grave or exceptional nature,” she said. “Matters that often affect communities which do not involve fatalities or physical injuries but are, nonetheless, abuse or disrespect of our citizens, therefore, fall within the scope of this commission’s authority.”

Several amendments to the structure of the commission have also been proposed.

Lightbourne, who is also the Leader of Government Business in the Senate, said the original structure of six commissioners and a chief executive officer has been reduced to a chairman, deputy chairman and five directors of complaints. The directors of complaints will each have regional responsibility for investigations carried out in their region of the island.

“This is an important change to the Bill, since the focus is no longer on a top-heavy bureaucracy, but on creating an appropriate staffing structure to carry out the Commission’s investigative functions,” Lightbourne said.

Furthermore, the senator said a director of administration will be appointed, with responsibility for the day-to-day management and administration of the Commission.

“These changes will allow for a leaner, more efficient Commission administratively designed to support its operations,” she said.

The Joint Select Committee also expanded the types of complaints that can be made by citizens to the commission. Under the proposed amendments, complaints may be made regarding matters that fall outside the ambit of death, assault or damage to property, but warrant investigation by the commission.

The committee also recommended that complaints involving death or sexual assault should be referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) upon receipt by the commission.

Lightbourne said the commission will also determine which cases are appropriate for public or private hearings.

“Public hearings will, of course, lend themselves more to community justice matters, and will allow communities to have an opportunity to participate in the process. This is an approach that, we feel, will go a long way towards the healing process in many hurt communities,” she said. “It will be comforting to our citizens to know that an independent body will be supervising, or controlling, the investigations ordinarily conducted by members of the force.”

Lightbourne reiterated that the Bill seeks to address the inadequacies of the current system of investigations into public complaints against members of the security forces.

When enacted, the Independent Commission of Investigation Act 2009 will replace the Police Public Complaints Act and provide for the establishment of an Independent Commission of Investigations, with a specific mandate to investigate all shootings and cases of abuse by the security forces and other state agents. (JIS)

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