Editorial

For the 'anti-gang' legislation to have effect...

Monday, February 24, 2014    

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It has taken far too long, but finally the Criminal Justice (Suppression of Criminal Organisations) Bill, popularly called the 'anti-gang' legislation, has been passed in the House of Representatives.

We are told that the legislation, described as critical to the fight against criminals, has had 22 amendments.

Now it goes to the Senate or Upper House prior to passage into law. Hopefully, the process from here on will be smooth and rapid.

We are told by the Government, through its information arm, the Jamaica Information Service, that "the Bill makes provision for the disruption and suppression of criminal organisations and outlines offences in order to restore a sense of security in the Jamaican society and strengthen the capacity of law enforcement agencies to deal with crime effectively".

In his interview with Executive Editor Mr Desmond Allen, Police Commissioner Mr Owen Ellington is summarised in defining the anti-gang Bill "as a piece of legislation that looks at organised crime in all its elements: the formation of criminal groups, syndicates or gangs; recruitment into these; the criminal enterprises in which they engage; the methods that they use to conceal their crime and ill-gotten gains; the facilitators that they co-op, such as corrupt police persons, corrupt lawyers, corrupt accountants, bankers, real estate developers — all the individuals who combine efforts in one way or the other to make criminal enterprises flourish and to escape the detection of law enforcement".

Given these testimonies to its importance, it is extraordinary that close to 50 years since criminal organisations first became a major problem in Jamaica, legislation such as this, specifically targeting those organisations, is only just about to enter into law.

Those who say 'only in Jamaica' should be forgiven.

That said, we note with interest plans by the police commissioner to build expert capacity in terms of trained investigators and legal know-how to properly exploit the advantages which crime fighters will have as a result of the anti-gang law.

It's absolutely imperative that the commissioner is not hindered by public sector budgetary constraints as he seeks to put in place the required staff.

Further, we take note of concerns about an erosion of human rights as a result of a range of legislation, including the anti-gang Bill.

Sensitive to such concerns, Attorney General Mr Patrick Atkinson assures us that the anti-gang law "will not exist in isolation" and that the police will "still have to go to court and prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the allegations against the particular person they take before the court are proven".

That's good.

This newspaper believes it is important to say, though, that as a society Jamaicans should be prepared to give up some freedoms — if only in the short term — in order to bring criminals to heel. What is certain is that the society, which has been terrorised by criminals for the last several decades, cannot allow that situation to continue.

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