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The Jamaican legal system is largely based on the British system and therefore influenced by a common law system.[1] Under section 13(a) of the Jamaican Constitution 1962, everyone in Jamaica has a right to ‘the protection of the law’[2]. The Jamaican criminal justice is also governed by the Jamaican Penal Code and the Prevention of Crime Law of 1963[3].

Police Procedures

Arrest, Search and Seizure Laws

The police force in Jamaica is the Jamaica Constabulary Force. The Jamaican government has created police forces to patrol areas by foot and on bicycles in order to reduce crime levels[4]. Section 15(1) covers the situations in which individuals may be detained by the police, and it is section 15(1)(f) which gives the police force the necessary power to detain a person for the purpose of arresting them. This article states, the officer may detain the individual “upon reasonable suspicion of his having committed or of being about to commit a criminal offence”[5].

Foreign nationals who commit a crime in Jamaica may be expelled or imprisoned[6]. Crimes involving illegal drugs (the use, possession or trafficking of such drugs) carry very heavy fines or long imprisonment sentences[7].

Whilst section 19(1) of the Jamaican Constitution ensure individuals cannot be subject to a search of their person, or their property, section 19(2) grants the necessary power to the police to enable them to search persons and their property as ‘reasonably required for the purpose of preventing or detecting crime’[8]. Under section 15(2) of the Constitution, an individual arrested must be informed of the reasons for their arrest[9]. Article 15(3) also ensured that individuals are brought before the court within a reasonable time[10]. Individuals also have the opportunity to have their detention reviewed by ‘an independent and impartial tribunal’[11].

The Suppression of Crime Act ensures a person is formally charged with a crime within a ‘reasonable time’ following their arrest[12]. Once arrested and charged, the defendant ‘shall be brought without delay before a court’[13] and if they are not tried within a ‘reasonable time’, the defendant ‘shall be released... unconditionally’ (in the absence of circumstances during a public emergency which justify the detention)[14].

Court Procedures


Section 20(1) of the Constitution states, “Whenever any person is charged with a criminal offense he shall, unless the charge is withdrawn, be afforded a fair hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial court established by law”. Under section 20(3) all aspects of a trial, including the decision, are to be heard in public. All individuals brought before the courts are presumed innocent until proven guilty[15]. Individuals will be afforded the ‘time and facilities for the preparation of his defence’[16] and will be able to defend themselves or by a legal representative[17]. Under Section 20(6)(g) individuals have the opportunity to examine the prosecution’s witnesses, and may also call their own witnesses (as long as the expenses of such witnesses are covered). The defence witnesses will also be examined in the same manner[18].

No individual can be tried for an offence which he has already been tried for, or if the individual has been pardoned for the offence in question, the only exception to this will be if a superior court proceeds with an appeal[19].

Defendants have the right to trial by jury (usually 7 jurors, although a murder trial will be heard by 12 jurors) unless heard in the Magistrates court, gun courts or during petty sessions[20]. In capital cases, unanimity is required by the jury, but only in these specific cases[21].

Bail can be granted to individuals, and this decision is taken on a discretionary basis[22].


Under section 14(1), ‘ No person shall intentionally be deprived of his life save in execution of the sentence of a court in respect of a criminal offence of which he has been convicted’[23]. Section 14(2) of the Constitution covers situations whether the use of force is ‘reasonably justified’. Section 15(1) also covers the situations in which individuals may be detained such as “in execution of the sentence or order of a court”[24].

Article 17(1) states, ‘No person shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading punishment or other treatment’ protecting individual’s rights in line with international standards. As well as the general influence of the English legal system, the principle of habeas corpus is also instilled in the Jamaican legal system and it is respected by the courts and the police force[25].

Court System

Minor crimes will be heard in the courts of petty session by lay magistrates[26]. The Magistrate’s Courts and Supreme Court hear both civil and criminal cases, with the most serious criminal cases being heard by the circuit courts of the Supreme Court[27]. The Resident Magistrate’s courts (including the Petty Sessions courts) deal with minor cases but have very broad sentencing powers in regards to serious offences[28].

The Supreme Court is presided over by the Chief Justice (who is appointed by the Governor-General upon the recommendation of the prime minister in consultation with the leader of the opposition party) and has unlimited jurisdiction to hear both criminal and civil cases[29]. As well as the Chief Justice, the court has a Senior Puisne Judge and a number of other Puisne Judges[30]. Judges will keep their seat until they reach the age of 70, although they are able to resign at any time[31]. In certain criminal cases, the Court can deliver judgments without a jury trial being heard[32]. The court resides in Kingston for civil cases and acts as a circuit court in capital towns for criminal matters[33]. The Supreme Court ensures cases heard are conducted in a fair manner, and also held within a reasonable time[34].

The Gun Court was established in 1974 and acts as an extension of the Supreme Court, hearing specifically cases of crimes involving guns[35]. Bail is never granted in the cases heard by this court and those convicted will receive a sentence of imprisonment following the Gun Court Amendment Act of 1982 which removed the mandatory life sentence of imprisonment[36]. The Gun Court Amendment Act has granted the Magistrates Court more power in relation to powers such as the granting of bail[37].

The Court of Appeal has 8 members[38]. This includes a President (who will be recommended by the prime minister following consultation with the opposition leader and appointed by the Governor -General), a Chief Justice (appointed in the same manner as the President) and at least 3 judges (although there is currently 6 judges)[39]. Similarly to the Supreme Court, judges will keep their seat until they reach the age of 70, although they are able to resign at any time[40] and all cases will be heard by a minimum of 3 judges[41]. Section 20(4-6) of the Constitution covers the situations in which a judge in the Court of Appeal can be removed for their seat, for example due to an ‘inability to discharge the functions of his office or for misbehaviour’[42].


Defendants can apply for an appeal in cases heard by Magistrates courts and there is the possibility of being released on bail during these proceedings[43]. Appeal is also possible from Gun courts and the circuit courts, although bail in these circumstances is only granted in special circumstances[44]. There is also a possibility of appealing to Privy Court in London[45].

Appeals from the Court of Appeal to Her Majesty in Council are governed by section 16 of the Constitution; under section 16(2) cases which can be appealed are those which are of great public importance or an issue as raised by Parliament.

Under section 110 of the Constitution, cases heard by the Court of Appeal can be appealed to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council based in London, appeal cases must concern a serious criminal or civil matter, an issue of great public importance, or cases which Parliament or the Court of Appeal believe should be appealed[46].

The Privy Council is the highest court in relation to Constitutional matters[47].

  1. http://www.country-data.com/cgi-bin/query/r-3197.html
  2. Article 13(a) Chapter III The Jamaican Constitution of 1962
  3. http://www.country-data.com/cgi-bin/query/r-3197.html
  4. https://www.osac.gov/pages/ContentReportDetails.aspx?cid=19562
  5. Section 15 Chapter III The Jamaican Constitution of 1962
  6. https://www.osac.gov/pages/ContentReportDetails.aspx?cid=19562
  7. https://www.osac.gov/pages/ContentReportDetails.aspx?cid=19562
  8. Section 19 Chapter III The Jamaican Constitution of 1962
  9. Section 15 Chapter III The Jamaican Constitution of 1962
  10. Section 15 Chapter III The Jamaican Constitution of 1962
  11. Section 15(6) Chapter III The Jamaican Constitution of 1962
  12. http://www.mongabay.com/history/caribbean_islands/caribbean_islands-the_criminal_justice_system.html
  13. Section 15(3) Chapter III The Jamaican Constitution of 1962
  14. Section 15(3) Chapter III The Jamaican Constitution of 1962
  15. Section 20(5) Chapter III The Jamaican Constitution of 1962
  16. Section 20(6)(e) Chapter III The Jamaican Constitution of 1962
  17. Section 20(6)(f) Chapter III The Jamaican Constitution of 1962
  18. Section 20(6)(g) Chapter III The Jamaican Constitution of 1962
  19. Section 20(8) Chapter III The Jamaican Constitution of 1962
  20. http://www.country-data.com/cgi-bin/query/r-3197.html
  21. http://www.country-data.com/cgi-bin/query/r-3197.html
  22. http://www.mongabay.com/history/caribbean_islands/caribbean_islands-the_governmental_system_government_and_politics.html
  23. Section 14(1) Chapter III The Jamaican Constitution of 1962
  24. Section 15(1)(b) Chapter III The Jamaican Constitution of 1962
  25. http://www.mongabay.com/history/caribbean_islands/caribbean_islands-the_governmental_system_government_and_politics.html
  26. http://www.country-data.com/cgi-bin/query/r-3197.html
  27. http://www.country-data.com/cgi-bin/query/r-3197.html
  28. http://www.mongabay.com/history/caribbean_islands/caribbean_islands-the_governmental_system_government_and_politics.html
  29. http://www.mongabay.com/history/caribbean_islands/caribbean_islands-the_governmental_system_government_and_politics.html
  30. http://www.mongabay.com/history/caribbean_islands/caribbean_islands-the_governmental_system_government_and_politics.html
  31. Section 5(1) Part I The Jamaican Constitution of 1962
  32. http://www.mongabay.com/history/caribbean_islands/caribbean_islands-the_governmental_system_government_and_politics.html
  33. http://www.mongabay.com/history/caribbean_islands/caribbean_islands-the_governmental_system_government_and_politics.html
  34. http://www.mongabay.com/history/caribbean_islands/caribbean_islands-the_governmental_system_government_and_politics.html
  35. http://www.country-data.com/cgi-bin/query/r-3197.html
  36. http://www.country-data.com/cgi-bin/query/r-3197.html
  37. http://www.country-data.com/cgi-bin/query/r-3197.html
  38. http://www.mongabay.com/history/caribbean_islands/caribbean_islands-the_governmental_system_government_and_politics.html
  39. http://www.mongabay.com/history/caribbean_islands/caribbean_islands-the_governmental_system_government_and_politics.html
  40. Section 5(1) Part I The Jamaican Constitution of 1962
  41. Section 9(2)(c) Part II The Jamaican Constitution of 1962
  42. Section 12(4) Part II The Jamaican Constitution of 1962
  43. http://www.country-data.com/cgi-bin/query/r-3197.html
  44. http://www.country-data.com/cgi-bin/query/r-3197.html
  45. http://www.country-data.com/cgi-bin/query/r-3197.html
  46. http://www.mongabay.com/history/caribbean_islands/caribbean_islands-the_governmental_system_government_and_politics.html
  47. http://www.mongabay.com/history/caribbean_islands/caribbean_islands-the_governmental_system_government_and_politics.html