The respective teams led by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition met two Fridays ago on violent crime.
The main promise afterward was that there would be co-operation on anti crime legislation, including the Government giving the Opposition early notice of the Bills it intended to introduce and facilitating discussion to find out from the Opposition any area of concern about the contents of a Bill. There was talk of greater use of a Joint Select Committee.
The population was skeptical that legislative co-operation may make a dent in crime.
“We have so much legislation already but it is not enforced.” “The police don’t hold anybody.”
These were two common expressions of the skepticism that legislative co-operation would bring down violent crime in an environment where if one citizen has a dispute with another he can then shoot, stab or chop the other to death and walk away with complete impunity.
This column long ago identified the impunity factor as a major incentive to the perpetration of violent crime. I am amused to see that some persons living nice within the establishment have suddenly found their voice on this subject.
A second output of the joint talks was the ritual reference to the death penalty still being “the law of the land”. I say the reference is ritual because the death penalty cannot be carried out currently for reasons that have been repeatedly identified in these columns.
There are at least four such columns, entitled respectively The Fallacy of the Death Penalty, Remedies for a Murderous Land, Death Penalty Advice and Death Penalty Hindrances, laying out in detail the blocks to enforcement of the death penalty and submitting that only a constitutional amendment requiring a vote of three quarters of the members of each of the two Houses of Parliament can remove those blocks.
The following words of the Privy Council, per Lord Nicholls, indicate that nothing short of a constitutional amendment can revive the death penalty for implementation:
“If the requisite legislative support for a change in the constitution is forthcoming, a deliberate departure from fundamental human rights may be made, profoundly regrettable although this may be. That is the prerogative of the legislature.
“If departure from fundamental human rights is desired, that is the way it should be done. The constitution should be amended explicitly.”
Of course having a death penalty is pointless if the police cannot catch the killers and have them successfully prosecuted. Part of this failure is a lack of discipline in the police service permitting the maintenance of bad egg networks within the service.
A long time ago there was extensive delegation of disciplinary control from the Police Service Commission to the Police Service itself. Nevertheless we have been completely unable, despite this positive step, to restructure the organisation and to compel it to use the disciplinary powers it has.
A Minister of National Security cannot possibly go into the field and “fix” the crime problem. His function—on his own initiative and in conjunction with other Ministries and critical stakeholders, like the Judiciary—is to provide policies and recommend legislation that address the structural deficiencies in the system by which we investigate crime and administer criminal justice.
For over 15 years we have been playing around with legislation to get rid of preliminary inquiries that clog up the courts and we are talking this talk yet again. However has the Judiciary identified or been asked which of its judicial complement and what resources will be made available to carry out the sufficiency hearings?
These hearings will be a lynchpin of the system after the abolition of preliminary inquiries. For almost as long we have been trying to make effective use of DNA.
Then there are fundamental macro questions: How do we manage and make accountable those who wield the coercive power of the State and its largesse and concomitantly expose and destroy the questionable interlocking relationships with contractors, suppliers financiers and relatives?
How do we ensure that policemen—if properly trained, equipped and disciplined—will able to penetrate the elite reaches of criminal enterprise in our murderous land?
There has been a persistent lack of awareness that any “plan” to deal with violent crime must address the structural deficiencies of our governance and justice system. These deficiencies reveal a lack of will to trouble the big fish. Lucrative supping with the devil goes on in this place.
These deficiencies, along with grievous socio-economic imbalances, have negatively influenced the development of political and cultural norms that would support a relatively just, honest and ordered society. The deficiencies have taken us in the opposite direction.
There is a range of criminal and anti-social acts, which ordinary citizens feel justified in doing when they can’t be caught or because others are getting away with it.
When there will be co-operative action on the real issues that facilitate violent crime?