Lawyers barred

THE leadership of the Tower Street Adult Correctional Centre in downtown Kingston and some members of the legal fraternity are at loggerheads again over a restriction on Saturday visits to clients by the attorneys, who are contending that other people have been allowed to visit while they are barred.

The issue, which is under probe by the Criminal Law Practice and Procedure Subcommittee of the Jamaican Bar Association, is a recurring decimal according to several attorneys who were contacted by the Jamaica Observer. This despite correspondence from the Department of Correctional Services (DCS) in 2021 to the Jamaican Bar Association, following an intervention by the subcommittee in which it pledged that, “guidelines will be implemented to standardise the way forward”. According to the DCS in that correspondence, attorneys are permitted to visit correctional facilities Mondays to Fridays between 10:00 am and 12 noon and 2:00 pm and 3:00 pm. On Saturdays it said attorneys would be allowed to visit between 10:00 am and 12:00 noon, with the caveat that “extenuating circumstances” could cause these allowances to change.

Affected attorneys are, in the meantime, chafing at the current restriction which they say has come as a surprise given the 2021 understanding. According to the lawyers, Saturday is a convenient visiting day given that on weekdays they are engaged in other court matters at varying locations.

Veteran attorney and former Jamaican Bar Association head, Jacqueline Cummings told the Observer that the visitation rules at the facility change arbitrarily.

“Almost every time they change the superintendent of that facility or there is a new commissioner of corrections, we have this problem; the rules and procedures change for lawyers,” she said. Cummings, who said she visited the facility as recently as last Saturday to meet with a client, charged that there is a disparity in the restrictions on visitors.

“I went there on Saturday at 10:30 am and was denied entry to see a client, and yet a bus load [of individuals] from a church group were allowed into the facility,” Cummings told the Observer.

Attorney and chair of the Criminal Law Practice and Procedure Subcommittee of the Jamaican Bar Association, Tamika Harris, who said she has also been prevented from visiting her client at the facility in recent times, said the working group is having “discussions to determine the best way to address this matter”.

The Observer was shown correspondence between the Department of Corrections and Harris in her capacity as chairperson from 2021, in which she outlined that on a visit to the facility with another attorney to see a client they were told that, based on the Corrections Act, lawyers were not allowed to visit on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays. Harris said she was further informed by a prison official that the entity operates with a skeleton staff on Saturdays and so could only accommodate attorneys on weekdays. Harris noted that contrary to the utterances of the official, there was nothing in the legislation prohibiting visits on the day in question.

Section 163 of the Corrections Act says “No person shall, except in a case of emergency, be allowed to visit an inmate on a Sunday or public holiday”.

In the meantime, attorney Courtney Foster told the Observer that she has lodged complaints with the Jamaican Bar Association about the issue.

“I went to see a client at the facility on Saturday, June 11 and I was advised to return as it was the lunch hour. I returned at the time I was told and it was indicated to me that attorneys are not permitted to see their clients on the weekends. Of course this was a surprise to me because there was no advisory sent out, and I stated same,” she said.

“I had a particular concern because as attorneys during the week we don’t have the opportunity to see our clients because of our various court fixtures. On a Saturday we take that opportunity to meet with our clients to get instructions, and so to have such a restriction implement[ed], it is quite unfortunate. Persons should have access to their counsel and I don’t see why there ought to be such a restriction,” Rowe stated.

“Certainly the participation of the Jamaican Bar Association will be important in this regard to ensure that all parties are in the same position in terms of attorneys accessing their clients and clients accessing their attorneys,” she said.

“I know different facilities will have different rules. I have been to other facilities on Saturdays and I have not been restricted in that matter, and I have been to Tower Street before on a Saturday to see my client [without being restricted],” Rowe added.

“It is something that’s very important because access to representation is a part of one’s preparation to appear before the court. Any attorney will tell you that preparation starts long before we stand up in court so it is important that we have the opportunity to meet with our clients,” Rowe said.

A representative of the Department of Corrections, when contacted, said that checks would be made to verify the complaints.

“The only reason I know they shouldn’t be allowed in would be because they have to apply to visit but because you said Saturday, in particular, I am going to check with the superintendent or the commissioner to see what would cause that,” the individual said.

Attorneys wanting to visit clients are required to complete and submit a visitor’s application form for each client.