Editors note:This article was published in Editorial Section of the Feb 6, 2009 issue of The Chronicle Newspaper.
Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerritâ€™s powerful message of zero tolerance for crime, especially gun crime, is timely and welcome but certain aspects of the fight against crime still need urgent attention.
It is heartening that the Skerrit administration is seeking to expand the capacity of the police force and toughen laws to deal with rising crime. It is particularly encouraging that Government intends to bring the laws of Dominica up to speed with the technology available today, to enable prosecutors to present evidence that would not be admissible under current laws.
If all goes well, Dominica can expect the net of the law to catch more perpetrators of crime and those caught would face stiffer penalties. But if the police catch more criminals and the courts deal with them more severely, certain loose ends in the countryâ€™s justice system need to be tied before the crime fighting package can be properly secured.
One of these loose ends has to do with ensuring that the wheels of justice turn more quickly. As the drive against crime gains momentum, it would be essential to ensure that the courts have the capacity to deal with any increased volume of cases that may occur. It would certainly be counter-productive if the court system cannot absorb the increase in cases that are likely to result from more intense police activities.
Another loose end involves preserving the integrity of the justice system. It is no secret that the results of certain high profile court cases have been highly controversial and in the eyes of many persons, justice did not appear to be done. If the drive against crime is to succeed, integrity of the courts is paramount. Appropriate mechanisms must be put in place to protect the justice system from being tainted by corruption at all levels, from the police investigation through the courts to the prison system.
Another loose end that needs to be tied is the nationâ€™s capacity to accommodate persons who have been detained for criminal activities. It is necessary to ensure that detention centres are adequate and can keep pace with any increase in the number of detainees that may result from expanded police activities. In this area, the government and law enforcement officials need to look at whether detention facilities are secure; comply with health, sanitation and nutrition standards; provide accommodation that is appropriate for the age and gender of the detainees with separation of juvenile offenders and serious offenders from other detainees.
If these loose ends are tied, Dominica has every chance of keeping crime at a manageable level and preserving the peaceful existence we have come to know and love.