#Jamaica, December 28, 2017 – Kingston – Canada’s High Commissioner to Jamaica, Her Excellency Laurie Peters, says she is heartened by the progress made in improving the local justice system’s response to the incidence of sexual assault and the treatment of survivors. She cites legal stipulations restricting defence attorneys from using the backgrounds of complainants and survivors to question their credibility in trial proceedings, and the holding of in-camera hearings for all sexual assault cases, including those involving children, among the notable achievements.
Other key gains highlighted by Ms. Peters include the introduction of a criminal bench book to better aid judges in directing juries during trials, and establishment of the Centre for the Investigation of Sexual Offences and Child Abuse (CISOCA), which she notes “has been doing a very good job… in improving the investigative and support services provided to complainants”.
The High Commissioner was speaking at the recent launch of the ‘Model Guidelines for Sexual Offence Cases in the Caribbean Region’, at The Jamaica Pegasus hotel in New Kingston.
While acknowledging CARICOM countries’ progress in promoting gender equality, Ms. Peters said sexual violence perpetrated against boys, girls and women remains a “significant problem”. She cited a 2016 Inter-American Development Bank-funded report on crime and violence in Jamaica, which indicated that almost 60 per cent of all sexual assault victims were girls aged 10 to 19. Further, that almost 50 per cent of women were forced into sexual relationships by age 20.
The High Commissioner said against the background of this and other “sobering” statistics, development and introduction of the Model Guidelines for Sexual Offence Cases in the Caribbean document represents a significant milestone for Jamaica and the wider region.
“These guidelines provide internationally accepted best practices in the management of sexual offence cases. They provide very important guidance to justice-sector stakeholders involved in the reporting, investigation, prosecution and adjudication of sexual offences. Additionally, they provide a rights-based approach to the treatment of complainants and vulnerable witnesses, including children, who are involved in sexual assault cases,” she added.
Ms. Peters expressed the hope that the guidelines will be adopted by regional countries, “and that their implementation will result in a variety of outcomes, including speedy adjudication of cases and reduction of case backlogs, over time”.
Meanwhile, Chief Justice, Hon. Zaila McCalla, who spoke at the launch, lauded the Office of the Children’s Advocate (OCA) for spearheading drafting of Jamaica’s Child Justice Guidelines and training judicial officers and other stakeholders in the application of these provisions. She also expressed gratitude to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and other international partners for assisting with the sensitization and training of judges in adjudicating cases involving children, whether as witnesses, victims or offenders.
Mrs. McCalla further thanked the Justice Ministry’s Victim Services Division (formerly Victim Support Unit) for their involvement, noting that the session organised for judges “opened our eyes and informed us that there must be a new way of dealing with children in our justice system”.
The Model Guidelines for Sexual Offence Cases in the Caribbean Region was launched in tandem with the Jamaican judiciary under the Can$90-million Judicial Reform and Institutional Strengthening (JURIST) Project, which is being funded by the Government of Canada and administered under Global Affairs Canada. The multi-year project is being implemented by the CCJ on behalf of the Conference of the Heads of Judiciary of CARICOM. The CCJ and other regional partners are contributing some $4 million to the initiative.
Global Affairs Canada is the department that manages Canada’s diplomatic and consular relations and leads the country’s international development and humanitarian assistance programmes.