The Ministry of Justice and the Canadian University Service Overseas (CUSO) International have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), to enable the establishment of the Children in Court – Court Prep Programme.
Modeled off the Canadian ‘Kids-in-Court’ project, the initiative is aimed at improving the capacity of the justice system and justice system workers to provide adequate and child sensitive psycho-social support to children who appear before Jamaican courts.
The MoU is expected to last for an initial three years and will be implemented through the Victim Support Unit (VSU), working in collaboration with CUSO International.
The expertise from several of CUSO’s volunteers will be utilised over the three-year period to complement, and partner with the current expertise at the VSU.
Speaking at the MoU signing at the Ministry’s head offices in New Kingston, on March 22, Senior Co-ordinator, VSU, Rev. Osbourne Bailey, said the need for the establishment of such a programme stemmed from a 2008 Office of the Children’s Advocate (OCA) study of 61 children who went through the court process as victims of, or witnesses to crime.
The report showed that many of the child victims stated that, “going to court was the most difficult thing they had to do in their entire lives, describing the process as confusing, frightening and traumatic.”
Rev. Bailey said the views of the 61 child witnesses, as captured through the report, confirmed a wide belief amongst professionals working with children that Jamaica’s justice system is failing to provide adequate support to its most vulnerable stakeholders.
“Out of that we believe we had a responsibility to increase our capacity to provide additional support for children who have to face the justice process. This capacity of ours, however, was limited and hence there was a need for us to seek partnership,” he added.
As such, CUSO International has come on board to provide the requisite technical support for the design and development of a programme to improve this aspect of the system, Rev. Bailey noted.
Meanwhile, Minister of Justice, Senator the Hon. Mark Golding, said he welcomed CUSO’s assistance in the establishment of such a worthwhile programme, noting that so far, some five volunteers have been working closely with VSU to get the project off the ground.
“Over the three years we may see more people coming to strengthen our capacity in this vital area as to how children, who have gone through the trauma of involvement in crime, whether as victims or witnesses, (are dealt with),” he said.
The Minister emphasised that, “it is vital how we deal with them (children) in that whole process and make it as comfortable for them as it possibly can be, so that at the end of the day, they feel that there has been justice and that the justice system is something which is there to serve the people and not to oppress the people.”
Mr. Golding said he is also looking forward to CUSO’s deepening involvement in other programmes implemented by the Justice Ministry, including the Restorative Justice Programme and the Child Diversion Programme.
In his remarks, Country Representative, CUSO International, Tarik Perkins, said that although the MoU is expected to last for three years, he foresees a continuation of the agreement beyond 2014, “because there are many areas that we want to build on and explore.”
He said CUSO is also working to increase its focus in supporting the National Volunteering Programme coordinated by the VSU. “We want for there to be strong volunteering programmes in every country that we work in so that in the long run there will be indigenous support and resources available to move development forward in all of these countries,” he stated.
Mr. Perkins noted that the organisation is looking to continue its work with the Community-based Justice Facilitator Model. “We are currently working in partnership with (various stakeholders) to look at different models for providing support at the community level to victims of violence, primarily women and children,” he informed.
Among the expected benefits of the MoU are: improved technical infrastructure and the institutional capacities to deliver efficient and effective services; improved technological infrastructure for efficient communication flows and improved services; implementation of the children in court project at the parish level; improved standardised procedures for providing psycho-social support to clients, particularly children in court; and enhanced research and reporting capabilities on the situation of children in the Jamaican justice system.
By Athaliah Reynolds-Baker, JIS Reporter