The 1962 Constitution of Jamaica provides that "every person, regardless of race, place of origin, political opinions, colour, creed of sex, is entitled to certain fundamental rights and
freedoms".Chap. 3, 1962 Constitution of Jamaica.These include the rights to life; to personal liberty; and to freedom from inhuman treatment. The enjoyment of these rights and freedoms is, however, "subject to respect for the rights and freedoms of others and for the public interest". In the public interest, individual rights may be also suspended in the event of war or other calamity. Any person who believes that his rights are being violated or threatened may apply to court for redress.Chap. 3, 1962 Constitution of Jamaica.
Article 13 of the Constitution protects the freedom of assembly, subject to limitations on the grounds of defence, public safety, public order, public morality, and public health.
The Constitution does not establish the Jamaica Constabulary Force, though it does provide for a Police Service Commission with responsibility for the appointment, dismissal, and disciplinary control of police officers.Chap. 9, 1962 Constitution of Jamaica.
|1966 Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)||State Party|
|ICCPR Optional Protocol 1||Not party*|
|1984 Convention against Torture (CAT)||Not party|
|Competence of CAT Committee to receive individual complaints||N/A|
|CAT Optional Protocol 1||N/A|
|1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court||Signatory|
1948 Charter of the Organization of American States
|1969 Inter-American Convention on Human Rights||State Party|
|Competence of Inter-American Court on Human Rights||No|
Police Use of Force
There is not yet national legislation governing the use of force by the Jamaican police that conforms with international standards. According to the 1988 Book of Rules for the Guidance and General Direction of the Jamaica Constabulary Force:
All members are required to exercise care in the handling and use of firearms, and one should resort to the use of a firearm only when it is extremely necessary. Consideration must be given to the human life at the other end, and any member who has to use a firearm to injure or kill another human being must be prepared to prove that it was his last alternative, at the time of discharging such firearm.1988 Book of Rules for the Guidance and General Direction of the Jamaica Constabulary Force, §2.16.
The Book of Rules further stipulates that if any member of the JCF "has to resort to the use of firearm in apprehending a criminal, or suspect, this should be done only in self-defence".1988 Book of Rules for the Guidance and General Direction of the Jamaica Constabulary Force, §2.17.
In 2013, Police Commissioner Owen Ellington issued new guidelines to JCF members following a shooting to death of a 16-year-old girl, Vanessa Kirkland, who was killed in controversial circumstances in Kingston. The Commissioner stated that the JCF had made changes to its weapons system, "reflecting an imperative to reduce the risk of collateral injury when we are forced to engage criminal elements in built up areas". He further stated that:
This is most evident in the shift away from routine use of M16 Assault Rifles and Carbines in street level policing to the lighter and less lethal MP5 Sub-Machine Guns and Glock Pistols. The re-introduction of pepper spray with the stated intention to equip 6,000 front-line personnel with a combination of less lethal options to the use of deadly force, are all part of a process being undertaken with the ultimate aim of building a response capability that can counter violence directed at front-line personnel by civilians, while at the same time, reduce or prevent injury and death of attackers as well as bystanders.
He noted that the existing Use of Force Policy stipulated that
a police officer should not remove a handgun from its holster or train a rifle unless he is legally and morally prepared to take a life. The Policy position obviously reflects what must be the ultimate consequence of deploying deadly force and emphasizes the serious nature of the act of discharging a firearm in any place. We believe such a strict rule denies the police officer the tactical option of “threatening the use of deadly force” while demanding that an attacker ceases an attack or drops a weapon. Consideration is being given to a policy to change allowing officers to:
- train a loaded weapon on an armed attacker and demand that he drops a weapon and ceases an attack under threat of being shot;
- appeal to bystanders to move out of an arc of fire for their own safety;
- relate to the attacker the consequence of continuing an armed attack on any person while calling witnesses to the officer’s effort at diffusing a volatile situation;
- verbalize an assurance to an attacker that disarming is in both the officer’s and attacker’s own safety.
Consideration was also being given to the possibility of allowing the firing of warning shots, which had been prohibited in the existing policy.
The independent police oversight body in Jamaica is the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM). The work of the Commission is governed by the 2010 INDECOM Act.
INDECOM has stated that a central aim of its work is "to effect change" in the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF)’s "excessive use of force", and thereby to reduce "infringements upon the citizens right to life". In 2013, fatal shootings reached 258, while the years 2014-16 "saw a significant and welcome downturn in police-related deaths, exceeding a 50% reduction". In contrast, fatal shootings by JCF officers in 2017 recorded a 51% increase over 2016 and a 66% increase over 2015.
Views and Concluding Observations of United Nations Treaty Bodies
In its 2016 Concluding Observations on Jamaica, the Human Rights Committee stated that it was concerned "at reports of torture and ill-treatment or excessive use of force by the police or security forces during arrests, in police stations, during interrogation and in detention facilities".Human Rights Committee, Concluding Observations on Jamaica, UN doc. CCPR/C/JAM/CO/4, 22 November 2016, §33.
In January 2013, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) published a Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Jamaica in which it stated that:
While much of the violence in Jamaica is attributed to the high level of criminal gang activity, a significant percentage of killings each year is committed by Jamaican police officers. The IACHR has received multiple, consistent and alarming reports from a variety of sources on the use of deadly force by police in Jamaica.IACHR Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Jamaica (2013), §41....
A great number of these deaths occur in circumstances consistent with extrajudicial executions at the hands of police officers. ... Civil society sources report that victims are often young men or boys from the inner cities who are unarmed and pose no threat to police. The IACHR has been informed that police use measures of excessive force and arbitrary arrest and detention, further aggravating an atmosphere of fear and victimization among the population.IACHR Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Jamaica (2013), §43.
Police Federation v. INDECOM (2018)
In this controversial decision from March 2018, the Court of Appeal ruled that INDECOM had no statutory authority to arrest, charge, and prosecute members of the security forces who commit unlawful acts, such as extrajudicial killings. The Honourable Miss Justice Hilary Phillips stated in her judgment that:
I have come to the clear conclusion that on a true and proper construction of the Act, INDECOM, the 1st respondent and his investigative staff have no power to arrest, charge or prosecute. Indeed, the right to do so having been neither expressly nor impliedly authorised by the Act can be taken as having been forbidden. I have also concluded that the provisions in the Act are clear and unambiguous and need no assistance from parliamentary debates in resolving any ambiguity. I have also concluded that the 1st respondent and his investigative staff have no power to arrest, charge and prosecute by statute or at common law as private citizens. Indeed, in my view, it would be absurd and contrary to Parliament‟s intention for the 1st respondent and his investigative staff to be given vast powers under the Act to investigate and then utilise their rights as private citizens to arrest charge and prosecute.Court of Appeal, Police Federation v. INDECOM (2018) §185.
The other two honourable justices, however, declared by Order of the Court (Phillips JA dissenting) that statute had not abrogated the common law right of INDECOM and their staff, "in their respective private capacities, to initiate a private prosecution against any person" for criminal offences covered by the relevant statute, nor their common law right "to arrest or charge any person or initiate a private prosecution against any person for any criminal offence". As of writing, INDECOM was seeking leave to appeal to the Privy Council on the order that it did not have the requisite statutory authority to arrest, charge, and prosecute members of the security forces.