No justice for Jermaine Wilkinson
January 5, 2004
Seven years after he was committed to stand trial for the killing of Jermaine Wilkinson, policeman Robert Beresford is still to be brought before the courts and worse, he may have since migrated and therefore may never be tried.
As reported in the Sunday Stabroek of December 28 Beresford was committed to stand trial for murder by then Chief Magistrate K. Juman-Yassin after the conclusion of the preliminary inquiry into the hearing. The PI was hearing a charge of manslaughter but at the end of the inquiry, the Chief Magistrate was of the view that the evidence presented fitted the capital charge and therefore upgraded it to murder. This decision was immediately challenged and overturned by counsel for Beresford who also applied to the court for bail which was granted. Since then, the case has been in legal torpor. Depositions have apparently not been typed and no one seems to have bothered to follow this case through the system. It is a shocking occurrence but not unexpected.
This case and what became of it is important for two reasons and the underlying problems they expose will fester until something is done.
When this Albouystown youth died in May 1996 at the hands of a policeman, it spawned the formation of the Justice for Jermaine Committee (JJC) which vowed to press for justice for the dead boy and to highlight heavy-handed police tactics and extra-judicial killings. The JJC became a symbol of the fight against police excesses. It was one of the first grass roots expressions post-1992 of a people's outrage at what the police force was doing and getting away with. Of course, these acts pre-dated Wilkinson's killing and they were to gather pace and continue in the years that followed. The JJC had limited success in advancing its objectives and galvanising support but one of its high points must have been its recent testimony before the Disciplined Forces Commission. What the JJC certainly did was to keep alive the memory of how Wilkinson was killed while awaiting justice for him.
Guyanese who have been aghast at the numerous questionable killings by police of innocents and suspects over the years would have winced at the disclosure that the case is yet to be brought to trial seven years after committal. It will also reinforce within large sections of the community that policemen appear to be above the law. When Wilkinson was killed it was the force of public opinion which led to the police charging the perpetrator and then only with manslaughter. There was always the view that the charge had been reluctantly brought and that the policeman would never face trial. Beresford, it seems, will never face justice. It leaves one to wonder whether his travel documents should not have been confiscated and his name placed on the no-fly list at the airport. It appears that Beresford legally migrated without anyone in the immigration department - whose chief officer is also the top policemen - seeing red flags cropping up all across the board. Ultimately, a policeman has escaped answering an extremely serious charge and this just adds to the extra-judicial killings baggage that our police force remains saddled with.
The second lesson pertains to the management of the court system. We have heard quite a lot recently from the court hierarchy about clearing up the backlog of civil and criminal cases and utilising a variety of alternative dispute resolution mechanisms. This is all well and good but means very little if a case as important as the State vs Beresford falls through the cracks and escapes. It reduces public confidence in the court's ability to dispense justice and suggests that for some reason or the other some cases are left to mould until the litigants either lose interest or one of the parties escapes the long arm of the law. The Chancellor of the Judiciary should seek to elicit answers from the officers of the court who are culpable for this case not appearing for hearing over the last seven years. A detailed statement should then be made to the public. All of the ambitious schemes underway utilising a range of donor funding will mean very little if families like Wilkinson's get no justice.