Anti-Crime Bills Debate Continues


The House of Representatives on Tuesday (June 8) continued debating the six Anti-Crime Bills, which the Government wants to support the efforts of the security forces to reduce crime and violence in the country.
The Bills are: an Act to amend the Bail Act; an Act to further amend the Firearms Act; an Act to amend the Offences Against the Person Act; an Act to amend the Parole Act; an Act to make interim provision in relation to the grant of bail in specified circumstances; and an Act to make interim provision extending the powers of arrest and detention under Sections 50B and 50F of the Constabulary Force Act.
They were originally considered by a joint select committee of Parliament in 2008, but because there was no consensus between the Government and the Opposition on some of the provisions in two of the Bills during debate on the report, they were withdrawn by the Government, redrafted and re-tabled in Parliament last week Tuesday to support the current anti crime effort.
Opening the debate in the House of Representatives on Wednesday (June 2), Prime Minister, the Hon. Bruce Golding conceded that the measures could still face opposition, but called for the support of all Members of Parliament in passing, what he described as, a “necessary response to a problem that has to be dealt with.”
Leader of the Opposition, Hon. Portia Simpson Miller in her remarks on Tuesday (June 8) maintained that there was a need to examine the impact of the Bills on the rights of all Jamaicans.
“We need a holistic anti crime strategy that makes the people partners, rather than the enemies of the police and the state,” Mrs. Simpson Miller said.
One of the two contentious Bills, the Bail Act, would allow the state to imprison a person charged with violent or certain drug-related offences for up to 60 days without bail. It would remain in force for 12 months.
“We note that it is being proposed that this Bill is to be passed without a Constitutional amendment. I would recommend that the government engage in extensive discussions with those interested parties on the way forward,” Mrs. Simpson Miller suggested.
The amended Bill requires that the detained person must be taken before a judge, not later than seven days after he is held, where the judge can review the matter to determine whether he should be released and, if he is not released, he must be taken back before the court at intervals of 14 days.
The other controversial Bill, an Act to make interim provisions extending the powers of arrest and detention under Sections 50B and 50F of the Constabulary Force Act, seeks to extend the powers of arrest and detention, so that a person can be detained for up to 72 hours, instead of 24 hours, without being charged or taken before a Magistrate.
It also provides for the arrest and detention of a person outside of the locality of a curfew or cordon, if a divisional commander or a member of the Jamaica Constabulary Force, at the rank of Assistant Commissioner, is satisfied that there is reasonable grounds for suspecting that the person is about to commit, or has committed a crime within the area of the curfew or cordon.
Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, Hon. Dr. Christopher Tufton, noted that the Constitution, while supporting the rights of citizens to a fair hearing and a fair trial, allows for some flexibility as it relates to the reasonableness of time that is allowed to protect the rights of the citizen, in enforcing the law.
He said that the amendments seek to adjust the time period, in order to allow for the State to respond in the context in which the country finds itself today, in terms of violent crimes.
“The question is, what is reasonable time to allow for the state to carry out its duties to determine whether someone is a threat to society?” Dr. Tufton observed.
He also stated that, in looking at the length of detention of an individual, consideration should be given to the nature of the crimes being confronted by the country today, compared to crimes of the past.

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