Ridiculous laws, silly fines

Bruce Golding urges update, removal of some legislation

Sunday, November 18, 2018

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Former Prime Minister Bruce Golding has said that some of Jamaica's laws need to be updated and, in some cases, dispensed with, as a number of them have ridiculously low fines, while some are in contravention of the Charter of Fundamental Rights.

“To have laws where the fines are ridiculously low encourages people to treat the law with impunity, frustrates law enforcement officials and induces them to ignore breaches. It hardly makes sense to prosecute offenders and waste the valuable time of the Courts only to end up with a fine that can easily be paid in coins,” Golding states in a column published in today's Jamaica Observer.

Golding frames his commentary on a pledge by the Ministry of Justice to complete a comprehensive review of the fines currently provided for in the island's statutes by the end of 2017.

In apparent support of the effort, Golding says that with the passage of time, many of the fines have been rendered ludicrous, with some as low as $20.

“For example, under the Opticians Act, the maximum fine for practising optometry without being registered is $40. Breaches of the Cinematograph Act or the Advertisements Regulation Act carry a maximum fine of $20,” the former prime minister states.

He also points out that under the Explosives (Control of Manufacture) Act, the maximum fine for manufacturing explosives without a licence is $200, with no provision for imprisonment.

“The Gunpowder and Explosives Act also stipulates $200 as the maximum fine for selling gunpowder without a licence. Unlawful possession of dangerous explosives carries a maximum fine of $40 or imprisonment for up to six months, but only if the fine is not paid,” Golding says.

He states that while explosives that constitute a “bomb or other like missile” and gunpowder found in ammunition “containing any noxious liquid, gas or other thing” are captured in the Firearms Act that carries much more severe penalties, this still leaves gaping loopholes for a defendant to exploit.

Golding also points out that under the Employment (Equal Pay for Men and Women) Act, paying women a lower wage than men for doing the same work attracts a maximum fine of $200 plus $20 for each day that the breach continues after conviction.

In addition, the maximum fine for offences under the Public Order Act ranges from $20 to $100, while breaches of the Burial Within Town Limits Act attract a maximum fine of $20.

According to Golding, more than 120 of the laws on the books were enacted over 100 years ago, and the passage of time has left many of them fossilised. He points, for example, to the Kingston Sailors Home Act of 1879 which requires the Government to establish a home, administered by a board chaired by the custos of Kingston, to provide accommodation for sailors laid off from ships that have left Jamaica's ports.

He also highlights the Bicycles (Control of Second-Hand) Act which makes it illegal to sell, purchase or even repair a second-hand bicycle without a licence and payment of the appropriate licence fee. In addition, the Women (Employment of) Act makes it illegal to employ women to work at nights except in specified circumstances (such as nursing).

“The Recruitment of Workers Act requires that a licence be obtained and the appropriate fee paid in order to recruit workers beyond a radius of 20 miles from the place of employment. The Licence and Registration Duties Act requires dog owners to obtain a licence, pay an annual fee and submit an annual return for each dog that they have,” Golding notes.

“To have laws that are ridiculous in their intent and virtually unenforceable in practice only undermines respect for the laws in general,” Golding argues.

He states that it was not surprising that the justice ministry review is taking longer than originally anticipated as there are over 600 laws on the books.

“Not all of them include fines, but combing through those that do in order to identify the specific and general penalties is tedious work. Once that is completed, the next big hurdle is to have each of these laws updated by Parliament. That is also tedious work and there will be a struggle to find space in the already crowded legislative agenda to deal with all of them,” Golding says.

See full article on Page 31

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