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Have the Police played their roles in the delivery of justice?

Criminal justice systems anywhere in the world inevitably begin with the police department. By law, Part 2 – Section (4) of the Police Act CAP. 105 provides the core functions of the Police. Subsection (1) says, “It shall be an essential duty of the Force to maintain an unceasing vigilance for the prevention and suppression of crime.” Police are meant to be the watchdogs of society for security, peace and order but also to ensure that when someone wilfully ignores the law, they are properly and thoroughly investigated and brought before the courts to face justice. Without the police there can be no effective justice system. It’s that simple.

The following provides some of the core functions of the police as aptly put by the Vanuatu Police Force in their website:

• Preservation of the peace and the maintenance of order • Protection of life and property • Enforcement of laws; and • Prevention and detection of offences and the production of offenders before the courts.

They also list the following as their values: Accountability – We are all responsible for our work results, personal actions and are answerable for outcomes Teamwork – We are upright, honest and respectable in our approach to others, our work and ourselves Trust – We have faith, confidence and are able to rely and on depend on others Quality – We value equal treatment of all people according to the rule of law, and we address inequalities and ensure access to opportunity for our employees through merit-based principles. Discipline – We perform our duties in a professional manner adhering to our Code of Conduct Excellence – We strive for continual improvement and high standards.

These values are derived from the Police Code of Ethics, setting out the guiding principles for professionalism and excellence in police work. These principles sound and look good on paper but if they are not put into practice then they are not worth the paper they are written on.

C4J is grateful to have been greatly assisted with valuable and insightful statistics relating to the number of complaints filed with the police through the Police Information Management System (PIMS). PIMS is a system established through donor support to monitor the investigative progress of reported crimes and how far they have gone in terms of reaching a final conclusion of the investigation process so that it is easy for complainants to track their cases and to ensure that in the end justice is done.

The stats span at least four years starting from 2014 and were from one police station— the central Police headquarters in Port Vila; and concerned just the first six months of each of the years looked at.

It shows that in 2014, a total of 548 cases were reported and registered with the Vanuatu Police Force headquarters. Of that figure, 377 were completed or furnished to the office of the public prosecutor. Completed cases meant, the reported crimes were fully investigated by the police investigation officers and all evidences were collected to a stage where there were sufficient evidence for the office of the Public Prosecutor to prove the crimes beyond reasonable doubt.

The 34 cases that were not completed for that year simply meant that the cases were still pending investigations.

It appears that from the statistics, 137 cases were not accounted for. Unaccounted cases meant that case files got lost and the manual system could not track them. This was possibly due to a number of factors; (i) they could have become stale and filed away (ii) The victims in the cases may have come forward to cancel their complaints (iii) Investigations yielded insufficient evidence so that the case could be forwarded to the PP for prosecution (iv) In worse case scenarios, the files might have been misplaced or destroyed by the investigation officer.

Then in 2015, some 947 cases were filed and registered with the police headquarters. Sixty-four of them were successfully concluded, while a staggering 636 were not completed, showing a weakness on the part of police investigation work. A number of factors could be assumed, (i) Police might have been involved in major operations where normal cases have had to be left undone (ii) Lack of manpower capacity where there were not enough Police investigators to take on the task of investigating a large number of cases, (iii) Lack of logistical support and resources needed (transport, rations, touring allowance, etc.) or (iv) Head of the investigation team is not competent in managing Investigations.

Then in 2016 the number of cases increased to over 1000 (1015) for the first time over the four-year period identified for this particular exercise. The increase in the number cases during this period might have indicated a number of factors; (i)A sudden upsurge in criminal activities – (ii)An increase in urban drift (iii) Unemployment (iv)Urban population increase

What was astounding for that year was that not even half of the complaints were concluded or handed over to the prosecutions. Instead, a mere 308 were “completed” while 643 were listed as “uncompleted.”

Almost along the same lines, just last year, of the 776 cases recorded, only 154 cases were completed.

Without delving further into the 2018 figures, which are just as alarming when one considers the escalation in the number of complaints registered up till June (1,134), the number of uncompleted cases were just as shocking (812), which warrants a closer look into the key role of the police in enforcing and upholding the rule of law. A disclaimer is necessary here. The above statistics do not necessarily add up for all of the years considered. And it may be that some of the cases were resolved or dropped before they reached conclusion. However, the increasing number of cases that did not get to be completed still paints a very poor picture of our law enforcement agency, and something has got to be done about it.

If the police are failing to fully carry out investigations into complaints because of a clear lack of resources, then the government and the ministry responsible must see to it that this is addressed as a matter of priority and that the police department is properly resourced with adequate budgetary allocation and manpower resources. It reflects poorly on the Government if police budgetary allocation is listed as sixth or seventh on the priority list. The recruitment now in process is long overdue, especially when one considers the police to population ratio. We will zero in on this in our later discussions on this particular subject.

At the risk of stating the obvious, one of the first factors investors take into account in their decision to choose a particular country to invest their money in is security. A country with a lax attitude towards security, let alone a weak justice system scares off investors because the risks for investment are far higher. Besides, there are other destinations available to them from all over the world.

It goes without saying that police only pay lip service to the ideals so eloquently captured in the values listed above, if at the end of the day no tangible results are achieved from the complaints deposited at the police headquarters.

While there may be merit in their ever-present protestations about meagre resources, police must also be able demonstrate that they are capable of living within their means. Vanuatu is not Australia or New Zealand where an abundance of resources is taken for granted. We need to be able to demonstrate to the ni-Vanuatu citizens and residents alike that this is a country our founders fought blood sweat and tears to take back from the hands of the colonial masters. As our law enforcers, they owe it to the people of Vanuatu and residents that an element of trust can be expected in how they carry out their responsibilities. And the onus is on them to gain that public confidence through how they go about their duties.

There have been so many anecdotal evidences to suggest that police are often not true to their oaths of allegiance or their code of conduct. Conflicts of interest abound. The tendency to bow to pressure from politicians and event business interests should be weeded out completely so that police remain neutral and independent at all times.

They say a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Let’s hope our police, as an agency of justice can begin to take that step towards restoring justice in our homes and communities.

We will continue this conversation in our next ‘Access to Justice’ series.

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