The Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) has recently been the topic of many discussions from both those in support and those against the entity.
This is especially due to a recent Constitutional Court ruling, which affirmed the INDECOM powers, as well as the publication of reports that show that there have been 80 civilians killed by agents of the State between July and October 2013.
In taking a look at these discussions we shall examine the nature of INDECOM as an organisation, its birth, its role and well as how it fares when juxtaposed to similar entities worldwide.
Role of INDECOM
INDECOM came into existence on August 15, 2010 through the Independent Commission of Investigations Act 2010, and thus replaced the Police Public Complaints Authority.
INDECOM’s website (http://indecom.gov.jm) lists its core function as the undertaking of “investigations concerning actions by members of the security forces and other agents of the State that result in death or injury to persons, or the abuse of the rights of persons; and for connected matters”. The entity was formed to take the investigation of police violations out of the hands of fellow officers in order to promote transparency and objectivity.
The Commission was accorded with powers to investigate, arrest, charge and prosecute police officers who were found to be in violation of the laws of the country and police conduct.
A recent ruling by the Constitutional Court as well as the even more recent dismissal of an appeal by members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) are among the issues what have sparked much of the discussion. The court ruling affirmed INDECOM’s powers to compel members of the security forces to give statements on matters under investigation by the Commission.
Discussions about INDECOM’s viability
These rulings have further led to the assertions that INDECOM’s powers are too far-reaching as well as the questioning of the usefulness and success of the investigations themselves in curbing extra-judicial violations. It has also been suggested that the powers afforded to INDECOM, for prosecuting members of the JCF independently without approval of the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), undermines that office. The counter-argument put forward by people such as the Commission’s head Terrence Williams, is that this is integral to carrying out of the organisation’s duties, maintaining the independence and objectivity of the watchdog.
Without INDECOM, the protection of civilians’ right to life would be left up to investigation by members within the same organisations as the officers who are being investigated. This creates an obvious conflict of interest, which was the main rationale for creating an independent unit of investigation.
Similar international organisations
Jamaica is not alone in its quest to have killings by their security forces independently investigated. Some jurisdictions, most similar to ours, have comparable organisations. England and Wales has the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) whose website (http://www.ipcc.gov.uk) states its function as “ensuring independence, accountability and integrity of the police complaints system.”
Trinidad and Tobago, meanwhile, has the Police Complaints Authority, legislated by the Police Complaints Authority Act of 2007 which bills the organisation as “an independent corporate body mandated, among other things, to investigate complaints within its remit, without the involvement of the police”.
Thus Jamaica is justified in its aim to have a body independent from the police force investigate complaints about the force. While perhaps there is a place for discussion about the actual running and purview of the Commission, calls for its abolishment are decidedly anachronistic and myopic.
© Yakum Fitz- Henley 2013