The Government is moving to amend the Offences Against the Person Act (OAPA) to provide harsher penalties for murder.
Minister of Justice, Hon. Delroy Chuck, in outlining the measures during a Ministerial statement in the House of Representatives on January 24, said that in Section 3(1)(b) of the OAPA, the proposed amendment is to increase the mandatory minimum sentence of imprisonment from 15 to 45 years.
In Section 3(1C), which deals with eligibility of parole for capital murder, the proposal is to increase the mandatory minimum sentence to be served before being eligible for parole from 20 years to 50 years.
Minister Chuck said for non-capital murder, where the sentence given is life imprisonment, the proposal is to increase the mandatory minimum sentence to be served before being eligible for parole from 15 years to 40 years.
He said where the sentence given was a term of years, it is proposed to increase the mandatory minimum sentence to be served before being eligible for parole from 10 to 35 years.
Minister Chuck said that a Bill will be laid in the House “in a week or two” reflecting the Government’s position on the appropriate penalties to be applied.
He said the imposition of mandatory minimum sentences via legislation is generally intended to send a strong message that the society will not tolerate certain forms of criminal behaviour.
He noted that an increase in the mandatory minimum sentences as well as amendments to the section of the Act treating with the possibility of parole (3(1C)) for murder, are seen as legislative strategies to treat with the soaring crime rate negatively impacting the country, and ensure that the applicable penalty matches the severity of the crime.
Minister Chuck said the Government is firmly of the view that these proposals achieve the objective of ensuring that the potential sentence matches the seriousness and gravity of the offence whilst remaining within the realm of constitutionality, by preserving some degree of discretion in the courts and allowing the possibility of a subsequent reconsideration of the court’s position.
“It ensures that in reasonable and deserving cases, the circumstances of one’s case could be reconsidered to determine the appropriateness of continued incarceration,” he pointed out.
The Minister said further, that with the promulgation of the recently passed Firearms (Prohibition, Restriction and Regulation) Act, 2022, which stipulates a range of 15 to 20 years mandatory minimum for varied firearm-related offences, there is an urgent need for the alignment of the minimum mandatory penalties prescribed in the OAPA for the ultimate crime of murder.
“Parliament should note that an assessment of the applicable penalties for other serious offences is in train to ensure rationality and consistency of penalties. The Minister of Finance has also indicated that significant penalties will be imposed for financial crimes,” he pointed out.
Minister Chuck said that the Government and the public at large are extremely concerned about the levels of murder across the island.
He noted that Jamaica has consistently had the second highest murder rate in the world since the year 2005, recording 1498 murders during 2022.
He said that the figure represents a two per cent increase over the corresponding period in 2021, where the number of recorded homicides was 1474.
Minister Chuck said that a clear and unmistakable message must be sent to potential killers that their wanton and heartless act will be met with disgust, repugnance and a lengthy period of incarceration.
“Having taken a life, the offender cannot and should not be allowed to enjoy the remainder or most of the remainder of his life freely and unburdened. We invite comments from everyone to indicate their position and appropriateness of these penalties and we do invite public discussion before they are enacted,” he said.