SOEs still an option for the Government, says HolnessMonday, June 21, 2021
Prime Minister Andrew Holness has signaled that the Government will declare a state of emergency (SOE) if the conditions on the ground warrant such an intervention by the security forces.
Holness made the declaration Sunday during a press conference at Jamaica House where he announced a Zone of Special Operation (ZOSO) for the community of Norwood, St James.
“Let me be very clear to all Jamaicans listening, if there occurs a situation, in which we (the government) clearly see that there is a threat to life, community and property that rises to the level that satisfies the constitutional requirement, we will declare a state of public emergency,” Holness said.
He was responding to questions about whether the Administration had abandoned SOEs as a crimefighting tool in light of the matter being before the Court of Appeal.
“The issue is not whether the government has the authority to declare a SOE, the issue is whether or not we can continue to extend and sustain it, but, the declaration of one still remains an option for the government, we have never closed that option," said Holness.
The prime minister said the government was exploring and putting in place, a better scheme of arrangements “that are clarified and clearer in keeping with the Constitution of Jamaica”.
Referred to as the Emergency Security Measures (ESMA), Holness said the measures are currently in the development phase and will get to the Parliament although he did not give a timeline for when this will happen.
However, he said once in place, the ESMA will give the police “a tool that is defined and fit for the purpose that we want it.”
A September 2020 landmark ruling by the Supreme Court against the extended detention of five men under the SOEs dealt a body blow to the government's main crimefighting tool.
SOEs had been in place in some sections of the island for up to two years at the time of the ruling.
While the SOEs were suspended in August 2020 ahead of the September 3 general election, they were never reinstituted because of the court ruling and the matter is now before the Court of Appeal.
In his ruling, Supreme Court Judge, Justice Bertram Morrison declared as unconstitutional and unlawful, the detention of five men - Nicholas Heath, Gavin Noble, Courtney Thompson, Courtney Hall and Everton Douglas - under the SOEs.
According to court documents, Heath was held in custody for 361 days, Hall for 395 days, Noble for 431 days, Thompson for 365, and Douglas for 177 days.
They were released from custody on August 17, 2020, just one day before Nomination Day activities for the general election.
In his 64-page judgment, Morrison argued that there were no justifiable grounds for holding the men for such extended periods. He noted that during their detention no charges were brought against them.
“It is quite remarkable, having regard to the fact that none of them had been charged for any offence in law,” Morrison stated. He also took issue with the detention orders under the SOEs issued by the national security minister which he also deemed to be unlawful. Justice Morrison said the use of the orders to detain the men for criminal cases without proper review breached the doctrine of separation of powers.
His overall view of the case was that he found it to be “the egregious overstepping of the bounds of the power of the executive”.
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