Information for bereaved families Jamaica: Murder, manslaughter or suspicious deaths
Information and advice if a friend or family member has been a victim of murder, manslaughter or has died in suspicious circumstances in Jamaica.
This information is to help you understand what you need to do if a British national has been a victim of murder or manslaughter or has died in suspicious circumstances in Jamaica and you are the next of kin.
You should also read the guidance available on what you need to do if you are bereaved through murder or manslaughter abroad, and what support the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) can provide.
Post-mortems are mandatory in all violent or unexplained deaths. There are few pathologists in Jamaica, and even fewer forensic pathologists (who are required to carry out post mortems in murder / suspicious cases). Official timelines for post mortems to be carried out for murder cases are four weeks but in practice they take much longer - closer to 8–10 weeks.
A family member or close friend needs to identify the deceased. The police cannot carry out identification of the deceased. If you are not available, the police usually insist on a consular officer helping with the identification.
If the results of the post-mortem are conclusive, a post-mortem report will be completed and a cause of death will be stated on the death certificate. If the results are inconclusive, a post-mortem report will not be issued. Samples may be taken from the deceased if the pathologist needs further information to determine cause of death. If the results are still inconclusive, the death will be registered as ‘unknown’. Whether the results of the post-mortem are conclusive or inconclusive, you should be aware that it can take several months for the post-mortem report to be completed.
Post-mortem reports are not normally issued to family members, only to the police, Embassies and the Courts if requested via a subpoena. If you wish to have a copy of the report you will need to contact the Jamaican police. You may also need to appoint a local lawyer to help in the process.
Mortuary facilities are limited in Jamaica and it is usual practice for the deceased to be taken to one of the state appointed funeral homes until the post mortem has taken place. Once the post mortem has been completed, the body is released into the care of the family-appointed funeral home to make the necessary burial or repatriation arrangements. Buildings have to comply with the Jamaican National Building Code so the facilities should be of an acceptable standard.
Organs may be removed during the post mortem but are not normally retained after a routine post-mortem examination. However, we are aware of one incident where organs were not returned and this required close liaison with the police and local authorities to resolve. We are not aware of any cases where organs have been retained following a post-mortem conducted by forensic pathologists and have been advised by pathologists that if an organ is to be retained for further examination, then the whole body is retained. However, tissue samples may be taken for testing. Organ(s) retained for research and/or teaching purposes require permission and approval of family members/next of kin.
For murder, manslaughter or suspicious deaths, the repatriation process can begin once the deceased has been released by the pathologist. You do not need to wait for the post-mortem report. A burial order is issued along with a permit to allow the deceased to be repatriated. You should appoint an international funeral director who will be familiar with the requirements for repatriation to the UK.
If you wish to arrange a cremation locally and then repatriate the ashes to the UK, you will need to have a cremation certificate, a burial order and a transit permit to allow the ashes to leave the country. You are advised to appoint a funeral director to help oversee the process.
Burial or Cremation
Arrangements for cremation or burial in Jamaica can be made through a local funeral director.
In cases where samples have been collected for toxicology, permission for cremation may be withheld until the toxicology results have been obtained. There are some forensic pathologists that will not consent to a cremation if the deceased has been murdered. The police officer present at the post-mortem will issue an Order for Burial which will permit a burial to proceed. It is not necessary to wait for the death certificate which can take up to 2 years if the pathologist needs to await the result of further tests before determining the cause of death.
Police investigations can take several years. Conviction rates are low. The police will not close a case unless there is a conviction, but cases often remain open with no activity unless new evidence comes to light. If no one is arrested or convicted the case will remain open but little will be done unless new evidence comes to light.
The police will generally share information on their investigation with the British High Commission and you directly.
It can take several months to produce a coroner’s report. Court cases have been delayed in the past because the post-mortem has not been ready.
Local Judicial Process
You should be aware the justice process can be very lengthy and can last for several years. Hearings often take place on cases but if the file is not complete, a witness fails to turn up or something else happens which is unexpected, the case is often deferred.
A case can have significant “mention” hearings (preliminary hearing to confirm if case is ready for trial) before a judge is satisfied that the case is ready to proceed to trial. For cases where the accused pleads guilty, timelines are significantly reduced as long as the case file will be completed. The case can be before a judge within 6-8 months.
If you were a witness you may need to attend court. The person who completes the formal identification of the deceased may also need to attend court as a witness. You may provide impact statements which can be taken into consideration during sentencing.
Jamaica formally retains the death penalty but it has not been used since 1988. The UK government opposes the death penalty in all circumstances as a matter of principle. We believe its use undermines human dignity, there is no proof of its deterrent effect, and errors made in its use are irreversible. Where there is a risk of the death penalty being imposed and carried out for the crime under investigation, the UK will seek assurances that anyone found guilty would not face the death penalty. Provision of UK assistance and related information may not be provided to the overseas authority if inadequate or no assurances are received.
Other useful information
- If there is any local media intrusion, the High Commission press officer can speak with you and provide a briefing on media handling;
- We are not currently aware of any local organisations that offer support or compensation;
- Death registration can be a lengthy process and can take 6 months or longer depending on the circumstances of the death and whether all the reports have been received. In some cases it has taken over 2 years for a death to be registered.
The British High Commission or HM Government accept no legal liability for the content.