Important Provisions in the ‘Zones of Special Operations’ Law

Photo: JIS Photographer In this file photo, Prime Minister, the Most Hon. Andrew Holness (2nd right), is in discussion with National Security Minister, Hon. Robert Montague (3rd right); and former Police Commissioner, Dr. Carl Williams (left), after a tour of the Montego Hills Police Station in St. James on Sunday (September 25, 2016). Others (from left) are: Deputy Superintendent of Police in charge of the station, Clinton Moore; Senior Superintendent of Police in Charge of St. James, Marlon Nesbeth; and Assistant Commissioner of Police in charge of the Area One division, Warren Clarke. The Prime Minister toured several communities before addressing a press conference at the Office of the Prime Minister’s Montego Bay office, where the outlined some crime fighting strategies for the parish.

Story Highlights

  • The Law Reform (Zones of Special Operations), (Special Security and Community Development Measures) law, which was passed in Parliament on July 11, is an important piece of legislation that seeks to contain crime while safeguarding the human rights of residents and promoting community development through social-intervention initiatives.
  • Anyone who is detained or arrested shall “immediately be told the reason for his arrest or detention… and forthwith brought before a Justice of the Peace (JP), who shall determine whether or not there are reasonable grounds for the arrest or detention”.
  • The Prime Minister can only declare an area a Zone of Special Operations after the Chief of Defence Staff and the Commissioner of Police, as members of the National Security Council, have advised him so to do in writing. 

The Law Reform (Zones of Special Operations) (Special Security and Community Development Measures) law, which was passed in Parliament on July 11, is an important piece of legislation that seeks to contain crime while safeguarding the human rights of residents and promoting community development through social-intervention initiatives.

There are a number of important provisions that citizens should be aware of.

First, no one can be detained or arrested in a Zone of Special Operations unless the person in charge of the operations is satisfied that there are reasonable grounds for doing so.

Anyone who is detained or arrested shall “immediately be told the reason for his arrest or detention… and forthwith brought before a Justice of the Peace (JP), who shall determine whether or not there are reasonable grounds for the arrest or detention”.

If the JP is satisfied that the arrest or detention is justified, the person shall be remanded in custody for not more than 24 hours, after which he must be brought before the judge of a parish court.

If the JP is not satisfied that the arrest or detention is justified, “he shall order that the person be released forthwith”.   During arrest or detention, a person has the right to be visited by a spouse, partner, family member, religious counsellor, medical practitioner and attorney-at-law.

The law establishes a strict accountability framework to ensure that the human rights of citizens are protected and that the security forces account for their actions within the Zones.

It provides for a Joint Command consisting of a Major of the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) and a Superintendent of Police of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF).

Significantly, the law makes it plain that, “the Joint Command shall be persons who, in addition to their general training as members of the Jamaica Defence Force and the Jamaica Constabulary Force, are additionally trained in human rights, the use of force and community development initiatives”.

Every Zone shall have a written accountability and reporting system as specified by the National Security Council, the committee of the Cabinet with responsibility for defence and national security.

The Council consists of the Prime Minister as Chairman, as well as the Minister of National Security, Minister of Justice, Minister of Finance, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, the Attorney General, the Chief of Defence Staff, the Commissioner of Police, and the National Security Advisor.

The Joint Command in each Zone shall submit a written report to the National Security Council every 10 days.  Failure to do so will result in disciplinary action.  In addition, “A member of the Joint Force shall, as far as is possible having regard to available resources, use a body-worn camera when conducting operations within a Zone”.

Cordons and curfews will not be permanent features of Zones of Special Operations.

“The cordon shall endure for a period not exceeding twenty-four hours, and the curfew shall endure for a period not exceeding seventy-two hours.”

Where searches of homes or vehicles are conducted, the owner, occupier or person in possession of the vehicles “must be afforded every opportunity to observe everything done in relation to the search”.

Only female security officers may search a female citizen.

No tool of lawful trade can be seized, nor any article or document which is subject to professional privilege.

Also, steps must be taken to ensure that a list of all vehicles, articles or documents seized and a receipt for those items are given to the owner or person in possession of a vehicle, for example.

“Any vehicle, article or documents seized shall be secured in such a place as an officer designated by the Joint Command may approve…”.

An important provision of this new law is for a Social Intervention Committee to be established in each Zone of Special Operations.  This Committee will assess conditions in the Zone, including physical infrastructure, health conditions, housing and other social amenities.

The Committee is charged with developing “a sustainable development plan which will include addressing issues relating to health, the environment, social improvement, infrastructural development, education and economic development”.

Also, “the Committee shall pay particular attention to vulnerable persons who live, work and attend school in the Zone, especially children, the elderly and persons with disabilities”.

Importantly, officers will now be given truancy powers and will be empowered to enforce compulsory school attendance by children.

This crucial Social Intervention Committee shall be chaired by the Prime Minister or his nominee and will include at least 10 persons chosen from among the following: Member of Parliament or Members of Parliament for the constituency or constituencies within the Zone; the Mayor of the principal town of the parish; the Custos of the parish; the Chief of Defence Staff or his nominee; the Commissioner of Police or his nominee; the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry  with responsibility  for  Social Security or the nominee;  the Permanent

 

Secretary in the Ministry of National Security or the nominee; the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health or the nominee; the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry  for Economic Growth or the nominee, and a representative of  the Planning Institute of Jamaica.

Other representatives on the Committee can be drawn from the Social Development Commission, the National Works Agency, the National Land Agency, the National Water Commission, the Medical Officer for Health, a representative of a bona fide community group, a resident of the Zone, or any other person or agency who the Prime Minister believes can assist the work of the Committee.

Importantly, an area cannot arbitrarily be declared a Zone. An area can only be so declared if there is “rampant criminality, gang warfare, escalating violence and murder and the threat to the rule of law and public order”.

The Prime Minister can only declare an area a Zone of Special Operations after the Chief of Defence Staff and the Commissioner of Police, as members of the National Security Council, have advised him so to do in writing.

The Prime Minister is empowered to declare a Zone of Special Operations for a period not exceeding 60 days. The Prime Minister in Council, meaning operating within the National Security Council, “may by Order, subject to affirmative resolution of the House of Representatives, extend the period… for such further periods, each not exceeding 60 days”.

Within 14 days after the declaration of a Zone and after each extension, the Prime Minister will make a statement to Parliament.

An Order revoking a Zone may be made at any time by the Prime Minister in Council.

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