Missing witnesses crippling court
The 'informa fi dead' culture, among other factors, is putting a significant strain on the court system as key witnesses in criminal matters are refusing to testify for fear of being killed, resulting in criminals walking free.
This is the word from Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Paula Llewellyn, who told our news team that some 40 per cent of criminal trials have been stalled because of missing witnesses.
"You still have a significant number of cases [hampered by] the 'informa fi dead' culture in some communities, or intimidation. Sometimes you may have apathy on the part of some witnesses, who may say it's not their business so they are not going to court," Llewellyn explained.
She added that over time, some witnesses also start to feel sorry for the accused and their family, and decide not to testify.
Sometimes parents also prevent child witnesses from attending court. In other instances, the witnesses have a relationship with the accused which complicates the matter.
"There was a situation with a policewoman and the accused man was her boyfriend. He had used her gun to shoot her, and she called me telling me that she was not interested in continuing the matter," Llewellyn shared, explaining that the two had 'made up'.
She said the possibilities are endless when trying to explain why witnesses go missing when they are called upon in court, and this severely handicaps the system as witnesses are vital.
"From murder, to money laundering, to different sexual offences, manslaughter, kidnapping, robbery, lotto scam, what they all have in common is that the prosecution has to prove a case beyond a reasonable doubt in order to get a conviction. So if you don't have the witnesses, you don't have a case," the DPP said.
A case in point is the four-year-old matter of Clifton Latchman, who was charged with murdering Bryan 'Man of Forty' Wright.
The matter has been in the courts since February 2013, as all six witnesses have gone missing.
Investigators said whenever they ask for the witnesses, residents say they don't know who they are and that they don't live there.
The witnesses are Kemar Williams, Godfrey Robb, Yvonne Morgan, Simone Latchman, Sheryl Reid and Marsha Phinn, who all hail from the same community, 20 Delacree Lane in Kingston 11.
They are being called on to testify in court on February 2, when the matter will again be mentioned.
Llewellyn is imploring all witnesses in the Latchman matter and other cases to come forward, so that justice can be served.