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Police Federation heads to court over heavy fine

BY ALPHEA SAUNDERS
Senior staff reporter
saundersa@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, November 23, 2017

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THE Police Federation is shaping up to go to court over a heavy fine for breaches of employment contracts that were built into the zones of special operations (ZOSO) legislation, on the basis that the police were not consulted on the new penalties.

Bert Samuels, attorney representing the federation, says the policemen and women were “ambushed” by this schedule to the Law Reform (Zones of Special Operations) (Special Security and Community Development Measures) Act, 2017, as they were unaware of the change since no amendments were made to the Constabulary Force Act itself.

“I have instructions to take the matter for consideration by the court, as to whether the JCF (Jamaica Constabulary Force) has caused criminal penalties to be imposed for breaches of a contract of service,” Samuels told the Jamaica Observer on Tuesday.

He argued that the police were never consulted about this schedule to the ZOSO Act, which moves the maximum fine for breach of contract from $20 to $250,000.

“The law called the ZOSO, on the face of it, has nothing to do with the terms and conditions of service, neither, on the face of it, does it indicate that it was changing the Jamaica Constabulary Force Act in terms of service. What happened is that a schedule to the Act equivalent to what you call fine print, made a change to a law which is 100 years old, has been amended, and rather than amend the substantive Act, it is the schedule to another Act. The police were ambushed by that particular strategy, and [were] unaware of any change,” Samuels contended.

The attorney wrote to Justice Minister Delroy Chuck on November 9, challenging the provisions, but the response which was circulated to the media Tuesday, basically dismissed the claims that the police were not consulted.

Samuels said the federation would be asking the court to weigh in on whether the police should face severe criminal sanctions for breach of employment contract.

As set out in the Constabulary Force Act, sub-officers and constables of the force may be enlisted for a term of five years, and are not at liberty to leave the force until the end of that term. The law requires six months' notice or face a penalty of up to $20, or three months' imprisonment, possibly at hard labour. That section was amended by the second schedule in the ZOSO Act to significantly increase the fine.

Chuck acknowledged the increase in the penalty but pointed out that the $20 fine has existed since the Constabulary Force Act was enacted in 1935. The law was last amended in 2012.

He said it would have been “most inappropriate for the lawmakers to consult potential lawbreakers to determine the appropriate penalty to comply with the statute”, and urged the officers to comply with the terms and conditions of their contract to avoid any penalty that may be imposed for its breach.

“The choice of words is very unfortunate, because I thought that the Government was committed to bringing on board stakeholders when laws were to be amended. My recollection was that that was a policy statement by the Government,” Samuels charged.

Chuck further outlined that the requirement for six months' notice remains on the books.

“It takes at least six months to train new recruits to serve in the police force, and thus the requirement to give six months' notice is reasonable. In addition, the police must ensure that all outstanding matters they are dealing with, especially investigations and court cases, be properly dealt with before resignation,” Chuck said.

The letter was copied to Minister of National Security Robert Montague, Attorney General Marlene Malahoo-Forte, Commissioner of Police George Quallo, and head of the Police Federation, Sergeant Raymond Wilson, who could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

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