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Government accused of rushing special crime zones Bill

BY ALPHEA SAUNDERS
Senior staff reporter
saundersa@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

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OPPOSITION members of the joint select committee of Parliament who reviewed the Law Reform (Zones of Special Operations) (Special Security and Community Development Measures Act) yesterday left before the sitting ended, after protesting against the “rush” with which the legislation was being handled in order to have it ready for debate in the lower House today.

It was the third time the committee had met, with the first meeting dealing only with administrative matters.

“The Bill languished for three months before commencing hearing at the joint select committee, then we rush through in one week. Notwithstanding many of the cautions stated here today and last week by many of the submissions, will we write a report today and debate it tomorrow afternoon? This is a charade, this is not a serious exercise,” Opposition spokesman on national security, Peter Bunting argued.

His colleague Opposition member, Senator Mark Golding questioned the purpose of the hearings and demanded to know how the recommendations made by the various interest groups, especially those that the committee heard from only yesterday, would be handled. He questioned how they would fit into the deliberations, given that a report would have to be written immediately.

Said Buntng: “The least we could do, given the time and effort they have put into their submissions, is to allow the committee time to consider the various recommendations and see how we can incorporate it to make the Bill a better Bill to put in some of the safeguards that have been recommended.” The Opposition, he said, would not have time to write a minority report.

Justice Minister Delroy Chuck said some of the recommendations would be taken on board “right now”, and that others would be referred to the National Security Council (NSC).

“Oftentimes when legislation comes up we have to consider policy directives, consider changes, and within a matter of minutes or hours we have to do these changes. It is a sharply focused Bill,” Chuck said, noting that the anti-gang portion of the Bill would be treated separately in order not to delay the process.

Member of Parliament (MP)for Trelawny Southern Marissa Dalrymple-Philibert argued that these were not ordinary times. “We are not operating in normal circumstances now in Jamaica, and as Jamaicans we have to make a decision whether or not we want to arrest the situation of crime in the country, and we have to react. I don't think any Jamaican is in doubt of the fact that we must now act,” said the Government MP.

Bunting, who again intervened, said: “I recognise the Government has the ability to pass the legislation, but if this was your intention, don't waste the time of everybody to call us to a joint select committee.”

Yesterday afternoon when Chuck attempted to table the report in the House, chaos ensued as the Opposition insisted that members had not had an opportunity to read the report, nor signed it. The report was subsequently withdrawn after the intervention of Prime Minister Andrew Holness, who indicated that the House would await the Opposition's minority report on the Bill, in accordance with the standing orders.

Yesterday, the committee heard lengthy submissions from human rights lobby group Jamaicans for Justice; former general secretary of the People's National Party Paul Burke; Attorney Frank Phipps; the United Nations senior human rights advisor in Jamaica, Birgit Gerstenberg; and a former member of the Jamaica Defence Force, Carl Marsh.

A common concern among groups was what was seen as the unilateral power that is being given to a prime minister, as head of the NSC, to declare zones of special operation. An amendment was subsequently made to define the 'Prime Minister in Council', as the prime minister acting in accordance with the advice of the NSC.

Attorney General Marlene Malahoo Forte noted was that there should be consultation with the social intervention committees that will attend these special zones, and that a vote on the Bill should be subject to two-thirds majority instead of a simple majority.

The Bill gives the police and military certain “essential powers” to address serious crimes by conducting law enforcement activities to rid these declared zones of illegal weapons, ammunition and other contraband and empower members of the joint security forces to search persons, vehicles, and premises without a warrant within a zone if they suspect that an offence has been or is about to be committed.

  

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