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Critical mass of Jamaicans support criminals – Panton

Retired Justice Seymour Panton has flagged citizens’ refusal to testify as fundamental to the failure of justice, declaring that a critical mass of Jamaicans support the perpetrators of crime.

Discussing a longstanding bane of prosecutors and the police, Panton, former president of the Court of Appeal in Jamaica, criticised nationals for not coming forward to give truthful statements.

“Whether we want to accept it or not, a significant segment of the population supports criminality. I believe that a significant section of the country supports criminality because they see things and they say nothing,” he said in a Gleaner interview Thursday.

Further, Panton said that many Jamaicans harbour criminals with the knowledge that they are violating the law.

The retired judge said he often sees residents on television “jumping up and down about incidents that they say happened and that they saw, but when it comes to putting it down on paper and to quiz them, they are missing”.

He argued that the prosecution was often hampered by that failure to give evidence.

“There are the people who will say there are a lot of gunmen going around doing this and doing that, but I always wonder, ‘How is it that people are only hearing the gunshots, but they are not seeing the gunmen and they are right there in the communities?’” Panton said.

The former Court of Appeal president described as “nonsense” any notion that justice was not being delivered to the poor in Jamaica.

He said that judges faithfully assess the evidence that is placed before them without regard to class.

“It is a myth to believe that the judges look to see whether you are from Constant Spring or Stony Hill or wherever,” Panton said.

On the issue of the long delays in setting trial dates and delivering court judgments, Panton said that a contributory factor was the increasing incidence of crime over time. That, he said, could only be remedied by the people of Jamaica.

He argued that courts have historically given priority to the disposal of criminal matters because the liberty of the subject is involved.

“Over the years, in my view, plainly guilty persons have refused to plead guilty, and as a result, trials are engaged in, unnecessary trials because the verdict in many cases is inevitably guilty, and some of these trials are drawn out,” he said.

Panton noted that in the past, an insufficient number of judges in the Court of Appeal contributed to the slow pace at which cases were tried.

However, he said that the recent rise to 12 judges, besides the president, has led to cases being “properly and speedily dispatched”.