Minister without Portfolio in the Ministry of National Security, Senator the Hon. Matthew Samuda, is confident that approved amendments to the anti-gang legislation will see a sizeable increase in the rate of convictions.
He notes that the changes being made through the Criminal Justice (Suppression of Criminal Organizations) (Amendment) Act, 2021, commonly called the anti-gang legislation, is being done to ensure that the Bill is “fit for purpose and that we move from two convictions to 20, to 30, to 40, to the point where we can start to disrupt gangs and disrupt criminal organisations in our country.”
Mr. Samuda, who was closing the debate on the Bill at the sitting of the Senate on Friday (June 18), said work to improve the legislation has been a long process, which has benefitted from advice from the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), the police, and the recommendations of the Joint Select Committee (JSC).
The Bill was passed by the Senate.
“This is the culmination of a phase of over 10 years of policy and legislative work that has spanned both sides of the aisle, and both parties when in power have seen the importance of this legislation,” he said.
Mr. Samuda said it is imperative that regular reviews are conducted on this legislation, “so that we can ensure that the legislation evolves and changes, and gives the security forces the tools they need for an ever evolving crime situation.”
The principal legislation, at Section 21, stipulates that the Act shall be reviewed by a JSC no later than three years after the date of its commencement.
The principal legislation is being amended to reflect the recommendations of the JSC and to further strengthen it.
Mr. Samuda pointed out that the legislation is “not a silver bullet,” and is part of a suite of measures to address crime, noting that it is not the position of the Government that any one piece of legislation or one action can curtail criminality.
He said the anti-gang legislation will work in conjunction with other pieces of legislation, adding that this legislative agenda include amendments to be made to the Firearms Act; amendments to the Corrections Act; work being done to create an offenders management policy; and the final regulations that will complete the process of making the Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency( MOCA) a truly independent organisation.
Further highlighting the need for amendments to the anti-gang legislation, Mr. Samuda said that the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) has stated that gangs are the greatest threat to Jamaica, noting that “at minimum, 60 per cent of the murders in Jamaica are committed by gangs, or ordered by gangs or come from some of the operations of gangs.”
Statistics from the JCF reveal that there are 379 gangs in Jamaica, with 262 considered active.
Amendments to the anti-gang legislation specify additional offences for activities in which criminal organisations are engaged; increase the number of offences under the Act; expand the list of aggravating factors to be considered when sentencing an individual convicted of certain offences under the Act; and improve the trial procedure in order to protect the identity of witnesses and for connected matters.
The Criminal Justice (Suppression of Criminal Organizations) Act, was first passed in 2014. It is so called, because the Act was tailored to undermine criminal organisations by criminalising the participation in, and promotion of the activities carried out by such organisations.
The report of the JSC to review the Criminal Justice (Suppression of Criminal Organizations) Act, 2014 was adopted in the House of Representatives in May, 2020.