Police want to hold suspects for a week without charge


Police want to hold suspects for a week without charge

Senior staff reporter

Thursday, November 22, 2018

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LAWMAKERS yesterday questioned a proposal being put forward by the police to be allowed to detain suspects under anti-organised crime legislation for a week, without charge.

The provision would also allow the police to extend this time period up to 14 days by way of a court order.

“Investigations into criminal organisations are complex and intelligence driven. There is a need to allow investigators sufficient time to interview suspects, verify leads and confirm intelligence before laying charges. These investigations also often involve a number of suspects, which lengthen the time it takes the police to carry out processes such as making arrangements for legal representation and scheduling identification parades,” the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) outlined in its submission yesterday to the Joint Select Committee of Parliament which is reviewing the Criminal Justice (Suppression of Criminal Organizations) Act, 2014.

The police say that these investigations also involve the security concern of violent reprisals, hence the need for a special regime for pre-charge detention under the Act.

Opposition Senator K D Knight argued that too often arrests are made without investigation, and that evidence is sometimes non-existent.

“We need to develop a culture of investigating before just picking someone up and putting them in custody and then you carry out some checks, go to court and you say you need a further period, then when the case comes to court, you say well the file isn't complete, and at the expiration of three weeks there is still the need to get some more statements. Then often the person is in custody and because the file is not complete bail cannot be considered and a trial date cannot be set. I am, personally, totally against this new provision that is being sought,” Knight told the committee.

Opposition Member of Parliament Mark Golding said the police must make clear, exactly the circumstances in which such a provision would be applied.

“I think the JCF should be asked to consider what is an appropriate procedure to follow for this to be invoked so that we can be satisfied that a process is properly underway, that it has been reviewed, and if they are going to get this period of time where they can detain [and] not just a 'scrape up' case,” said Golding.

Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP) in charge of the Crime and Security Portfolio Selvin Haye told the committee that the powers being sought would not be applied in an ad hoc manner.

“I am the first to acknowledge that in the police force we have not covered ourselves in glory regarding how we have approached the issue of the rights of citizens. However, in balancing the scale where we face a clear and present danger of criminals who take control of communities, who prevent people from coming to law enforcement. [They] kill people with impunity [so] the proposal is to satisfy, to an extent, the court that this individual is someone that is a danger to society, and so it's not a willy-nilly taking in someone. [He is] someone who is a member of the gang, on whom we have evidence that we can put before the court. Maybe [the investigation is] not at a stage where we can charge as he is picked up, but evidently, he's going to be charged,” said Haye.

According to the JCF, since the legislation was enacted in April 2014, 448 people have been charged for varying offences under the Act but only two convictions obtained by plea bargaining.

The police said they have encountered a number of challenges in enforcing the law, and are recommending the seven-day pre-charge detention period, among other changes, in the hope of strengthening its ability to fight organised crime.

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