Opposition senator thinks provisions could 'water down' anti-gang law

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Opposition senator thinks provisions could 'water down' anti-gang law

BY ALPHEA SAUNDERS
Senior staff reporter
saundersa@jamaicaobserver.com

Saturday, January 25, 2020

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LEGISLATORS could include offences related to simple larceny and receiving stolen goods in the anti-gang law, in order to help the State convict perpetrators of organised crime.

The Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions had called for the amendment in its submission to the joint select committee (JSC), which is overhauling the 2014 Criminal Justice (Suppression of Criminal Organisation) Act, more commonly called the anti-gang law.

The director of public prosecutions said there is a growing trend of “big time criminals” engaging in small crimes to fund their operations. Despite 595 gang members being arrested and charged for various breaches under the Act, there have only been two convictions.

The matter was discussed this week as the JSC, and Solicitor General Marlene Lynch-Aldred and her team reviewed the committee's draft report at Gordon House.

Committee chairman and National Security Minister Dr Horace Chang pointed to the Uchence Wilson gang case, members of which, he said, were primarily involved in robberies.

“They would invade a house, take out the television and then fence it on the market... If they continued to do 20 televisions per month, it would assist them with money. In the case of Clarendon, they (gangs) would steal goats, which was praedial larceny, but it was the gang activity to get goat meat to Haiti to get firearms. So the idea is, bring those offences conducted by the gangs under the anti-gang Act, where they can get more serious sentencing,” he said.

Opposition Senator K D Knight said he would challenge the provision when the Bill goes to Parliament.

“What we have done is now put offences into this legislation that we do not regard as serious offences to be dealt with as if they were... so we water down the seriousness of this piece of legislation by putting in offences that are not normally regarded as serious. Let's be serious,” he said.

Manchester Central Member of Parliament Peter Bunting agreed with Senator Knight's concerns and questioned whether the offence would capture a gang of pickpockets, for example.

“If we expand the list of offences to include the scam artists, then we really run the risk of applying it too widely and clogging the courts,” Bunting said.

The solicitor general noted that the DPP's submission indicated that, in recent cases, prosecutors have found that simple offences are actually money-making offences for gang members.

But Senator Knight remarked: “I understand what the DPP wants, the question is should the DPP get it? When it comes to be debated, I am going to dissent.”

He warned that the application of the law could play out differently on the ground than what is intended by policymakers.

In her intervention, Attorney General Marlene Malahoo Forte explained that the schedule would set out the type of offences to be covered, and therefore address the concern about how wide the net of offences would be cast.

“The whole idea is to ensure that where evidence is clear that an offence has been committed, you do not end up with an acquittal from your technicality because of how offences are categorised,” she told the committee.

St Andrew South Member of Parliament Mark Golding argued that adding simple larceny to the list would open the floodgate for public nuisance offences to be captured under the anti-gang law.

“An officious police or officer or prosecutor [could] use this for a purpose for which it was never intended,” he said.

Lynch-Aldred noted, however, that simple larceny could still be categorised as a serious offence, given the maximum penalties that are attached to this offence.

“Just because we have called it simple larceny doesn't mean it can't be treated as a serious offence depending on what the offender has been caught with,” she said.

The JSC is seeking to have the report tabled before the 2020/2021 budget debate begins.


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