Jamaica Observer: KINGSTON – The lengthy wait for jury trials is beginning to take its toll on people who have been denied bail while they wait for their cases to be tried.
Because of the novel coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent restrictions on the number of people who are allowed into courtrooms, several jury trials have been set back by months, and the frustration is mounting for people who are awaiting their day in court.
On Monday, family and friends of a man accused of murder questioned the fairness of Jamaica’s justice system after they told the Jamaica Observer that he had been denied bail when he appeared in court on Monday and remanded until his next court date, which has been set for May 2023.
Sanjay Williams was arrested in early 2019 on a murder charge, which he has denied any part in. He was initially granted bail, but this was revoked after he was arrested and charged with an ammunition offence while on bail.
That charge was subsequently dismissed by the court, but since then his applications for bail on the murder charge have been rejected.
“It is as if they have sentenced him without a conviction. It cannot be fair that he has to spend another two years in custody without being tried,” argued a family member who asked not to be named.
“If he is found guilty then the judge will take into account the time that he has served in custody. But since we are convinced that he is not guilty, how will he be compensated for the time that he has been in lock-up. This cannot be fair,” added the family member.
“He has been told that there is a significant backlog for jury trials and if he opts for trial by a judge alone the matter would be before the court quicker, but at this rate it would be late 2022. That is not really a difference. It cannot be fair,” declared the family member.
Efforts to contact Tom Tavares-Finson, Queen’s Counsel (QC), who is representing Williams, were unsuccessful up to press time.
News of the lengthy delay in the Williams case came hours after 56-year-old Detective Sergeant Duliet McKay of the Police Video Identification Unit was offered bail by High Court judge, Justice Leighton Pusey.
McKay had been in custody for 20 months, having been denied bail on previous occasions after she insisted that she wanted the matter tried by a jury.
But, on Monday, her attorney Peter Champagnie, QC, made an impassioned plea for her to be released on bail.
McKay is to stand trial for allegedly forging a judge’s signature on a divorce document and passing it on as the genuine document to the complainant who had wanted a divorce.
The complainant has alleged that McKay represented herself as a paralegal officer who could process the divorce.
The trial was set to begin on Monday but could not get under way owing to the suspension of all jury trials due to the pandemic.
McKay, on her previous appearance in court, had insisted on having her matter tried by jury as opposed to a bench trial.
In requesting bail, Champagnie indicated that it would have been a grave injustice to have his client in custody in circumstances where a likely trial date would be a year or more from now, having regard to all the attendant circumstances.
Champagnie further argued that his client had consistently denied the allegations, and other evidence had come forward to suggest that she was not the one responsible for any forgery.
McKay was offered bail in the amount of $500,000, on condition that she reports one day per week at the Office of the Commissioner of Police. A travel ban was also ordered against her.
Her case is to be tried in February 2024.
In the interim, the case is to be revisited next Monday for the prosecution to have certain other court orders made in respect of the management of its case.
McKay openly wept as the offer of bail was made to her. Her matter had recently come to public attention as questions had arisen as to why bail had been refused for her on so many occasions before.