Move to criminalise tipping off suspects

Move to criminalise tipping off suspects

Senior staff reporter

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

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A recommendation is to be made to Parliament to criminalise the act of alerting suspects that they are under scrutiny.

The joint select committee reviewing the 2014 Criminal Justice (Suppression of Criminal Organisation) Act, also called the anti-gang law, yesterday agreed to include the recommendation in its report to the House of Representatives.

The recommendation was made by St Andrew Southern Member of Parliament Mark Golding and supported by Justice Minister Delroy Chuck. The members further proposed that if the person who commits the tipping off offence is in a position of trust, this is to be construed as an aggravating factor for which the court could escalate penalties.

The original proposal from the national security ministry was that there should be an additional term of imprisonment of 10 years for people in positions of power, such as law enforcement, members of the judiciary, and the political directorate, but members argued against naming particular categories of persons in the law.

“I'm wondering why it shouldn't just apply to everybody, why carve out politicians and others, why [not] anybody who tip off gangs that there is an impending law enforcement operation. I don't see the need to get into contentious groups of persons, it should be across the board,” Golding said.

Minister Chuck agreed.

“Let tipping off be the aggravating (offence). If the person is in a position of authority, then the judge would use his or her discretion to impose a higher sentence. Just make it a significant penalty for tipping off,” Chuck said.

National security minister and chairman of the committee Dr Horace Chang said he was in favour of increasing the penalty because stiffer fines should be a deterrent to anyone who is involved in tipping of gangs.

Meanwhile, the proposal for anonymity to be granted to witnesses in gang-related cases was again a point of discussion during the meeting.

State minister for culture, gender, entertainment and sport Alando Terrelonge, cautioned against any move to prevent an accused person from knowing the identity of their accusers once a case goes to court.

The matter was previously raised in February at a meeting of the committee where the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) proposed that a provision should be included in the anti-gang law to this effect.

At the time, Senior Deputy DPP Jeremy Taylor said lack of anonymity often hamstrings proceedings in murder cases after the police take statements from witnesses, but at trial witnesses often back out when they realise their identities have to be revealed.

“An accused person has the right to know the person who has accused him or her, so for us to be saying anything other than that I don't think it would be fair, whether in law, in principle, or otherwise. It would erode every single thing to have a trial and the accused doesn't know the name or identify of the accuser,” Terrelonge stressed yesterday.

He also insisted that if such a move is being contemplated, the Jamaican Bar Association must be advised and given an opportunity to make a submission.

“Again, I must caution such legislation ...there are things that will happen in terms of travesty of justice, and we must always be mindful of the little boy and the little girl who, because of their civic address, certain allegations can be made willy-nilly at times, and they should have a right to know who is accusing them so that they can properly prepare their defence,” he stated.

Dr Chang noted that it is for this reason that the Ministry of Justice is pursuing a comprehensive piece of legislation to deal exclusively with the issue of witness anonymity.

However, he said that, while the rights of individuals have to be protected from malicious accusation, in particular cases witness anonymity is necessary. “That's the reality of it, or we will never prosecute any of them,” Chang said.

The committee is scheduled to reconvene on January 21, when it is expected to finalise the report.

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