Judge wants seating for prisoners

September 21, 2022
The Kingston and St Andrew Parish court in Half-Way Tree, St Andrew.
The Kingston and St Andrew Parish court in Half-Way Tree, St Andrew.

At least two defence counsels are supporting the call for renovation of courtrooms by Senior Parish Judge Lori-Anne Cole-Montaque, who recently expressed concern about the length of time prisoners stand in the holding area before being ushered into court.

"It's inhumane ... to be standing for hours on end. I think something needs to be done about it," the senior judge, who presides in the Kingston and St Andrew Parish Court, said on September 15.

More than 10 prisoners were standing in the holding cell waiting for their matters to be mentioned when the judge made the comment.

Contacted for a response to Cole-Montaque's observation, John Clarke, legal officer at Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ), said it is something that "needs to be examined by the powers that be".

"I am happy to hear that comment because something needs to be done. The holding areas were meant to be temporary, but it just shows how our society has evolved from the early days, and how overcrowded the system is," Clarke said.

The JFJ representative cited the case of Desrene Morris, a 51-year-old resident of Jones Town in Kingston, who committed suicide in March 2018, while in the holding area of the Half-Way Tree police lock-up, to press home his point. Morris was found slumped against the grille of the cell, with one end of her blouse tied around her neck and the other tied to the cell door.

"They brought her early for evening court and she killed herself because she couldn't bother with the wait, the heat and everything. Remember, everyone is presumed innocent until found guilty, but these very conditions under which they are held are in fact worse than the prison cells that most persons would go into. That is something that should be examined and properly fixed," Clarke explained.

The lawyer said that benches are provided for prisoners in other jurisdictions.

Another attorney-at-law, Isat Buchanan, said the judge's call is most appropriate.

"My interpretation of what she said is - right before her eyes - the inhumanity, I as a judge is experiencing is right before my eyes, and then you expect me, as a judge, to tell somebody's child that you should go among those and be treated as a non-human," Buchanan said.

He reasoned that the benches can be installed in such a way bench that makes it impossible for persons to themselves and others.

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