Privy Council quashes Jamaican police’s decision to promote a Superintendent, after refusing to investigate 37 fatal shootings under his command


Re: Jamaicans for Justice v Police Service Commission and another (Jamaica) [2019] UKPC 12

The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council has allowed an appeal, which quashes the Jamaican Police Service Commission’s (“PSC”) decision to recommend the promotion of Superintendent Hewitt (“Supt Hewitt”), following numerous complaints of fatal shootings made by officers under his command.

Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ), a non-governmental human rights organisation first raised complaints about these fatal shootings with the PSC in July 2009 and asked what investigations there had been. They again raised complaints in July and November 2010 after receiving no response. Shortly afterwards, the Commissioner advised the PSC that Supt Hewitt was being recommended for promotion, as an officer who had commanded challenging divisions and succeeded in reducing crime.

The PSC requested a fatal incident report which contained particulars of 37 incidents involving Supt Hewitt, most of which were still under investigation. Despite further concerns raised by JFJ, in April 2011 the Director of Public Prosecutions reported that no charges would be brought in relation to the fatal incidents and the PSC recommended that Supt Hewitt be appointed a Senior Superintendent.

The court found that the purpose of setting up the PSC under s 129 of the Constitution of Jamaica is to insulate the JCF from political influence. They held that the PSC must exercise its functions in a manner which is compatible with the fundamental rights of all persons, including the right to life, the right to equality before the law and the right to due process of law, guaranteed by section 13 of the Constitution.

Although there was no statutory duty to give proper consideration to the recommendation to promote Supt Hewitt, a proper discharge of the PSC’s functions did require it. The court found that the PSC had the power to ask the independent complaints commission (INDECOM) to investigate, and such an investigation might have revealed a different picture from the brief information with which the PSC had been provided. The final decision would have still been that of the PSC, but there was a reasonable prospect that a properly informed PSC might have made a different decision.

Mr Hewitt has now retired so the quashing of the PSC’s decision and requirement for reconsideration has become academic.

Hugh Southey QC was involved in this case.