A fine-tuned machine requires that each component perform consistently and reliably.
Even a high-performance Porsche sports car can break down if there is a flaw in the drivetrain, electrical system or fuel line. So, too, a single breakdown in any component of our criminal justice system – from policing to prosecution, from courts to corrections – threaten the integrity of the entire system.
Unfortunately, recent cases point to a criminal justice system that is less Porsche and more Pinto in need of a mechanic.
Here’s how our system should work:
When a crime occurs in the Cayman Islands, citizens report it and assist police in the investigation. Police find and arrest the perpetrators, handing off a solid case file to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, which determines efficiently if charges are warranted. If so, the defendant soon appears in court, where judges and juries weigh the evidence and the arguments, bringing the trial to a swift and just conclusion.
If the verdict is guilty, and the sentence includes incarceration, the convicted person is remanded to prison to pay his debt to society and undertake rehabilitation, with the goal of achieving a smooth reentry into our community as a productive (and law-abiding) individual.
Too often, here’s how Cayman’s system actually functions (or doesn’t):
Eyewitnesses to, or even victims of, crime don’t step forward with information. In other words, they don’t cooperate with the police. Police don’t make arrests or, when they do, sometimes make mistakes that create legal “loopholes” for defendants to escape trial and judgment.
Prosecutors let major cases languish while pursuing other cases of seemingly minor importance. Outbound tourists with a single bullet found in their luggage might be an example.
A backlogged court system, hampered by a shortage of judges and serious deficiencies in physical infrastructure, often deals with years-old incidents.
When a conviction does occur, the guilty person is dispatched to a crowded and under-resourced prison facility. When offenders eventually return to society, they frequently become “reoffenders” and start the cycle anew.
The problem is not that every part of our criminal justice system is broken, or any particular part misfires in every case – but that you can’t count on any part to function as it should. Stories that have appeared in recent editions of the Compass offer several examples:
Last December, a police crackdown led to the seizure of two dozen illegal motorbikes. The concentrated effort has made our streets safer in the short term, but so far has not resulted in any convictions (or exonerations) in court.
The drunk driving trial of senior immigration officer Garfield “Gary” Wong (himself a member of law enforcement), has again been adjourned. This alleged incident occurred three and a half years ago, in December 2013.
A judge found a defendant – accused of indecent assault of a female – not guilty after learning that police officers had failed to advise the suspect of his right to an attorney without having to pay.
One commonality unites our above observations – the components (police, prosecution, judiciary, prisons) are under the jurisdiction of the governor. Repairing and maintaining our criminal justice system is ultimately the responsibility of the governor’s office, not the elected Legislative Assembly.
Cayman’s economic vitality is founded on a limited set of “natural resources”: sand, sun, sea, political stability and personal safety. If any of those components are eroded, the societal consequences could be grave.
Here’s a much-needed reality check: Even taking into account recent high-profile incidents, Cayman remains one of (if not the) safest country in the Caribbean. Compared to similarly sized cities in the U.K., U.S. or Canada, Cayman is as safe, or safer.
Nevertheless, Gov. Helen Kilpatrick needs to hop in the driver’s seat and take firm control of the wheel.