JIS News

The House of Representatives has adopted the report of the Joint Select Committee on amendments to the Finger Prints Act and has passed the legislation, which seeks to amend and standardize the existing law in keeping with practices in most commonwealth jurisdictions and the United States.
National Security Minister, Dr. Peter Phillips, who piloted the legislation at yesterday’s (March 8) sitting of the House, explained that without jeopardizing individual rights, the Act sought to, without court order, provide legal authority for the fingerprinting and photographing of persons taken into custody in connection with specific offences. It also makes provision for the institution of new schedules of offences and increases the penalty for breaches of the Act and the rules relating to the work of the Finger Print Bureau.
The legislation, which was tabled in the House on March 1, improved on the existing law, which Dr. Phillips said, “restrained the Constabulary Force from, among other things, establishing a booking procedure and it thereby prevents the early identification of criminal offenders through the use of fingerprinting techniques”.
He said it also hindered the ability of the law enforcement machinery to track down and prosecute criminal offenders to the full extent of the law and reduced the prospects of recapturing offenders, who escaped custody prior to trial, or who were wanted on warrants or had absconded while on bail.
“This problem has become particularly acute in light of the obviously intolerable levels of violent crime,” he stated.
“Accordingly, there is need for appropriate fingerprinting legislation and this is even more critical when considered in the context of the number of persons, who abscond on bail as well as the increasing threat to the safety of crown witnesses,” the National Security Minister stated.
Also incorporated in the Bill, is a recommendation from the committee, that a clear definition for ‘fingerprint’ be provided, to include ‘palm print’ and ‘foot print’.
While Opposition members emphasized that there should be no fingerprinting of juveniles and that the taking of fingerprints had no place in a family court, government members said it made no sense to have separate legislation for the taking of fingerprints of juveniles as special provisions were provided for them in the Act.
The committee also decided that in the case of a child age 12 to less than 18 years, provision should be made for an independent person to act on his/her behalf if the parent or guardian could not be found. It was submitted that in such a situation, the appropriate person to act on behalf of the child was the Children’s Advocate or his nominee. An amendment was therefore inserted to this effect.
Under Section 3 A (4) of the Bill, which deals with the taking of fingerprints and photographs of persons taken into custody on the written authorization of an authorized officer, opposition members indicated that there was no justification to take the authority away from the court and vest it in a police officer.
The committee decided that in respect of the proposed amendment, the words “on reasonable suspicion of having committed an offence” should be included after the word “custody” and “an authorized officer” should not be below the rank of a Superintendent.
While agreeing that appropriate regulations, sound administrative practices and proper monitoring mechanisms needed to be in place before the legislation was implemented, government members felt that if Jamaica wanted a measure of lawful behaviour, as was typical in developed societies, those charged with securing law and order must have some power to enable them to carry out their tasks.
The committee also decided that the fine for breaches under the Act should be raised from $500,000 to $1 million and the term of imprisonment moved from six months to one year. This was also included in the amendments.
An amendment to section 4 B was also submitted, whereby the person and his legal representative would be given prior notice in writing of the date, time and location when his/her fingerprint form and all other related documents would be destroyed. The presence of the accused and his legal representative would also be permitted and a certificate issued.

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