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The House of Representatives, on Tuesday (Oct. 16), approved a motion for the United Kingdom (UK) and specified British Overseas Territories to be brought under the ambit of the Mutual Assistance (Criminal Matters) Act.

The move will provide for increased cooperation on criminal matters between Jamaica and other Commonwealth countries in the region.

According to Attorney-General, Patrick Atkinson, who moved the motion, the Act facilitates provision for mutual assistance between Jamaica and Commonwealth countries in matters of criminal law, whether local or international, and allows for the Minister by Order, to designate a Commonwealth country as a designated Commonwealth state for the purpose of the Act.

“Under the Act, however, Britain is designated as one of the Commonwealth states and it is felt that it is more desirable that the United Kingdom be designated and the specific Commonwealth states, which are British Overseas Territories, be named. As a result, the word Britain would be deleted from the Act and substituted instead, would be United Kingdom, and the following overseas territories: Anguilla, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Montserrat, Turks and Caicos Islands,” he said.

Earlier this year, Minister of Justice, Senator the Hon. Mark Golding, tabled in the Senate, an Order to bring the UK and British Overseas Territories under the ambit of the Act.

Senator Golding explained at the time, that the Order resulted from a letter he had received from the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (ODPP) in late March this year, bringing his attention to a request the office had received from the relevant authorities of one of the British Overseas Territories, pointing out that the request could not be granted because this country had not been brought within the ambit of the Act.

“It was pointed out by the ODPP that failure to bring this and the other British Overseas Territories in the region under the Act was adversely affecting Jamaica’s co-operation arrangements in criminal matters with the law enforcement authorities of those countries, as many requests for legal assistance had been coming to Jamaica from those countries and Jamaica was not able to respond favourably,” he said.

Senator Golding noted that this, in turn, was affecting how favourably those countries respond to mutual requests for legal assistance from Jamaica. “The ODPP requested me to rectify this situation by making an Order, bringing these countries within the ambit of the Act,” he explained.

He noted further that the designation of these (countries under the Act is critical to the nation’s war on transnational crime, as it will be an important tool to help combat the high levels of organised crime, and corruption being experienced by the country and the Caribbean as a whole.

The forms of legal assistance available under the Act, include: locating, examining, and taking the testimony of witnesses; production of documents and other records; carrying out search and seizure; and the tracing, seizure and forfeiture of property.