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Privy Council lashes Jamaica over prisoner rights issues
2012-08-16 16:44:54 | (0 Comments)
Barbara Gayle, Justice Coordinator
Jamaica is among several Caribbean countries which have been criticised by the United Kingdom-based Privy Council for failing to provide legal aid for prisoners after their murder appeals are dismissed by the Court of Appeal.
The Privy Council made the comments today when it granted permission for two Jamaican men to pursue their appeal against their murder convictions.
The men Carlos Hamilton and Jason Lewis were convicted in 2001 of the murder of Saleem Hines.
In 2003, their application for leave to appeal to the Court of Appeal the highest t local court was dismissed.
The subsequent application for leave to go to the Privy Council should have been filed within 56 days after the matter was dismissed by the Appeals Court.
But although it was filed eight years and four months later, the Privy Council says in the interest of justice, it has decided to grant the mens request.
A date is now to be set for the Privy Council to hear the appeal.
At the trial, evidence was given that Hamilton and Lewis chopped Hines to death.
The men were subsequently sentenced to life imprisonment and ordered to serve 25 years before parole.
Hamilton and Lewis are now being represented free of cost and are being assisted to get free legal representation by solicitor Juliet Oury of the law firm Oury Clark in England.
Oury has been assisting Jamaican prisoners with free legal service for the past ten years.
"It remains commonplace in the case of criminal appeals coming before the Privy Council from jurisdictions in the Caribbean for periods of years rather than days to elapse before the application is made, the Privy Council said.
It further said, the reason for the delay was that most if not all prisoners in the Caribbean region were left without legal representation when proceedings in their Court of Appeal had been concluded.
"Legal aid is not generally available at that stage and on the rare occasions when it is available the facilities provided are very limited.
Almost all the prisoners have to resort to pro bono assistance which is not easily found," the Privy Council said.
Hamilton and Lewis were convicted of non-capital murder and the Privy Council said it was harder for prisoners convicted of non-capital murder to find pro bono assistance than prisoners on death row.
According to the Privy Council, in practice, prisoners who wished to appeal Court of Appeal decisions in the Caribbean had to rely on pro bono assistance from foreign attorneys especially from English barristers and solicitors except in the Cayman Islands and Bermuda which provided legal aid for their prisoners.
Concerns were also raised by the Privy Council about the system that exits at prisons in Jamaica.
The Privy Council said it was told that there was no access to landlines telephones for the prisoners who had to communicate with the outside world by writing letters and many of them were illiterate.
"For those who can read and write, letters sent in and out of prison tend to take about four weeks, some take months and some letters go missing," the Privy Council said.
It was argued before the Privy Council by the lawyer for the respondent that prisoners had access to cell phones but Oury who is assisting the appellants said it was her belief that cell phones were regarded as contraband items and prisoners found with them would be disciplined.
Commenting further on the long delay, the Privy Council said the solicitors for the parties agreed that there was no current published procedure for prisoners in Jamaica to be informed of their rights of appeal.
The situation in Jamaica at present is that the process is prisoner-driven and unless the prisoner makes inquiry, he will not be informed of his appeal rights, the Privy Council said.
It further said, it had no reason to think that the situation was different in other Caribbean States.
Source: The Gleaner/Power 106 News
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