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The Criminal Justice System

Jamaica's legal system, including much of the substantive and procedural criminal law, derives from Britain's legal code. The relevant statutes are those in force at the time of independence, including a number enacted by the British Parliament in London, and those subsequently enacted by the Jamaican Parliament. As in all countries with roots in the English system, a body of case law governs the interpretation and application of statutes; some issues may be resolved by common law.

The Jamaican Penal Code and the Prevention of Crime Law of 1963 established minimum penalties for certain crimes. Minor crimes are prosecuted in the courts of petty session, headed by justices of the peace, who are also called lay magistrates. The Resident Magistrate's Court and the Supreme Court hear both civil and criminal cases (see Government and Politics, this ch.). The more serious criminal cases usually are tried in the circuit courts of the Supreme Court. All circuit court trials are jury trials; the jury is composed of seven persons except for homicide cases, which require twelve jurors. A majority of jurors may render verdicts, except in capital cases in which unanimity is required. The resident magistrate, petty sessions, and gun courts hold trials without juries. Most trials, with the exception of the Gun Court, are open to the public.

The Gun Court was established on April 2, 1974, as a combination court and prison to combat the increase in violent crimes involving firearms. It operates as an extension of the Supreme Court and deals with crimes involving guns. The Gun Court Act allowed detention and prosecution of subjects and authorized a single resident magistrate's court to issue prison sentences to those convicted of illegal possession of firearms or ammunition. In July 1975, the Privy Council in London ruled that the Gun Court Act was constitutional. The Privy Council held, however, that mandatory sentences of indefinite detention with hard labor could not legally be imposed by the resident magistrate presiding over the Gun Court. The 1983 Gun Court Amendment Act enabled the resident magistrate courts in all parishes except Kingston, St. Andrew, and St. Catherine to decide whether a particular charge would be dealt with in the Resident Magistrate's Court or should be referred to the Gun Court.

If the conviction occurs in a resident magistrate's court, the accused party may often obtain bail while his case is being appealed. If the conviction is in either a circuit court or the gun court, there is no bail during appeal proceedings, except under certain special considerations. Appeals to the Privy Council in London can take up to a year. No bail is permitted in gun court cases even before conviction; all persons convicted receive an indeterminate jail sentence of up to life, with release given only when these cases are reviewed by the Privy Council. The 1983 Gun Court Amendment Act eliminated the previously mandatory sentence of life imprisonment. It also removed to juvenile courts the hundreds of cases involving youths under the age of fourteen, who had been given life prison sentences before its enactment; many were paroled. In addition, the Amendment Act allowed resident magistrates greater leeway to set trial dates, grant bail, etc., and gave magistrates outside the Kingston area discretion in referring non-capital offense cases to the Gun Court. The number of new gun cases filed in 1986 rose by 30 percent to 536.

The Suppression of Crime Act limits the period a person can be detained before being charged formally with a crime to "a reasonable time." The detainee must be brought before a court "without delay," or within twenty-four hours; in the past, however, some detainees have been held for two weeks or longer without being brought before a judicial officer. Individuals charged with a criminal offense may have access to legal representation.

Before independence the attorney general was in charge of prosecutions, but his court functions were dropped when he was made chief legal adviser of the government. Since then the official responsible for criminal prosecutions has been the director of public prosecutions, whose office may bring all legal proceedings except a court-martial against anyone in any court, take over criminal proceedings initiated by another authority, or terminate legal proceedings at any stage.

The Jamaican Penal Code provides for capital punishment, which was made applicable again in 1982, after a period in which executions were suspended while a parliamentary committee considered whether or not the death penalty should be abolished. Jamaica resorted to executions more frequently than did other Commonwealth Caribbean countries. In the late 1960s, about twelve executions were carried out annually. Between August 1980 and February 1987, fifty-four convicted murderers were executed, including fourteen in 1986. An extensive appeals system exists, however, and condemned persons may appeal to the governor general, the Jamaican Privy Council, and the Privy Council in London.

Amnesty International has criticized Jamaican policy on capital punishment, claiming that it contravenes the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ratified by Jamaica in 1975. In early 1987, 170 prisoners in Jamaica remained under sentence of death. Two Jamaicans who had been facing the death sentence for more than eight years won a further stay of execution in April 1987 after the UN Committee on Human Rights in Geneva ruled that a final appeal was admissible. As a result, the Jamaican government was required to show that the delays in judicial process were not a denial of the men's rights under the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Strict laws exist against the use of marijuana. As of 1897, possession led to a minimum jail sentence of eighteen months. Jamaica's Dangerous Drug Act of April 15, 1948, provides penalties for various offenses related to producing, using, and trafficking in drugs. Minor marijuana cases are dealt with by a resident magistrate's court, whereas serious offenses are adjudicated in a circuit court following indictment by the former. Circuit court judges have considerable judicial discretion regarding sentences.

An Act to Amend the Dangerous Drug Act was adopted in March 1987. It gave jurisdiction to the resident magistrate courts over offenses pertaining to cocaine and other hard drugs. It also increased the maximum penalties that may be imposed under the act by a circuit court, or on summary conviction in a resident magistrate's court. In the case of marijuana, it provided for the imposition by the courts of minimum fines based on the weight of the marijuana in the convicted person's possession. Under the amendment, a person convicted on a marijuana import or export offense by a circuit court may be sentenced to a fine of not less than US$500 for each 28 grams or to imprisonment not exceeding 25 years, or both. On conviction before a resident magistrate's court, a person is liable to a fine of not less than US$300 per 28 grams and a maximum of 3 years imprisonment, or both. Cultivating, selling, or transporting convictions in a circuit court may result in a fine of no less than US$200 per 28 grams and up to 25 years imprisonment, or both. A fine of no less than US$100 per 28 grams or imprisonment up to 5 years may be imposed for a conviction by a circuit court on a marijuana possession offense. There are slightly lower penalties for conviction in a resident magistrate's court.

The Civil Aviation (Control of Aerodromes and Airstrips) Regulations of November 1984 provided for increases in penalties for offenses related to illegal or unauthorized operation of aircraft, including confiscation of the aircraft. The act was amended in December 1984 to provide for additional restrictions against illegal air activity associated with narcotics trafficking. Under the act, penalties for landing and taking off in aircraft at locations other than licensed aerodromes and airports included a fine of up to US$100,000 or three times the value of the aircraft and its engine, accessories, and equipment, whichever is greater, or up to five years in prison. The same penalty applied to constructing an unlicensed aerodrome or preparing land for use as an airstrip. In order to facilitate United States efforts to prosecute narcotics conspiracies, the Treaty on Extradition Between the United States of America and the Government of Jamaica was signed at Kingston on June 14, 1983.

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Clinton V. Black's The Story of Jamaica: From Prehistory to the Present and Samuel J. Hurwitz's Jamaica: A Historical Portrait offer helpful overviews of Jamaica's history. A valuable description of the educational system can be found in Millicent Whyte's A Short History of Education in Jamaica.

The debate over the experience of the Jamaican economy in the postwar era has been quite prolific. Some of the better arguments include Owen Jefferson's The Post-War Economic Development of Jamaica, Norman Girvan's Foreign Capital and Underdevelopment in Jamaica, and various books and articles from the Caribbean's best-known economist, Sir Arthur Lewis. Mahmood Ali Ayub's Made in Jamaica: The Development of the Manufacturing Sector is rich in its analysis of not only the growth in manufacturing but also the use of industrial incentives and the dilemmas of import substitution policies. Michael Kaufman's analysis of the Manley experiment Jamaica under Manley - Dilemmas of Socialism and Democracy is well documented and insightful. Robert E. Looney's The Jamaican Economy in the 1980's: Economic Decline and Structural Adjustment offers an objective and quantitative analysis of the Jamaican economy. The most comprehensive statistical and analytical publication is the annual Economic and Social Survey of Jamaica, published by the Planning Institute of Jamaica. The best data available in Jamaica are located at the Statistical Institute of Jamaica, and the best analytical works can be found at the Institute for Social and Economic Research on the campus of the University of the West Indies in Mona, and through the institute's journal, Social and Economic Studies. Relatively few up-to-date books on Jamaica's governmental system, politics, foreign relations, and military and police forces are available. A useful and informative primer is John D. Forbes' Jamaica: Managing Political and Economic Change. For serious students of Jamaican politics, Carl Stone's Democracy and Clientelism in Jamaica is essential reading. His numerous articles in academic journals and in the Daily Gleaner, as well as his frequent polls, provide useful insights on Jamaican politics. Other useful articles include Anthony Payne's "Jamaica and Cuba 1959-86: A Caribbean Pas De Deux" and "From Michael with Love: The Nature of Socialism in Jamaica"; Carlene J. Edie's "Domestic Politics and External Relations in Jamaica under Michael Manley, 1972-1980"; and Michael Massing's "The Jamaica Experiment". (For further information and complete citations, see Bibliography.)

Data as of November 1987

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