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The Senate yesterday (Sept. 23) gave the nod to a Bill amending the Larceny Act giving force to new legislative provisions specifically targeted at stemming the rise in extortion practices across the island.
The Bill modified the parent Act to make it an offence for a person to make unwarranted demands with menaces in order to gain a benefit or cause loss to another individual. In addition the Bill requires a person charged with the offence of extortion to satisfy the Court that the demand was warranted in particular circumstances.
Minister of Justice and Attorney General, Senator A.J Nicholson who piloted the Bill said requirements for amendments to the legislation came consequent to the Emancipation Declaration. He added that the amendments were the result of consultation between Government, the Opposition and the private sector.
The Attorney General further noted that in recent times extortion and criminal activities had been on the increase with few prosecutions taking place as there were few formal reports being made to the police. This he said was due in part to the reluctance of persons affected to come forward and make reports out of fear, and also the difficulty in proving the case under the existing legal provisions, which did not adequately address extortion practices.
In this regard the Bill also serves to repeal sections 43 to 45 of the principal Act to make the provision more explicit. Senator Nicholson said an examination of the provisions by Legal Reform officers found the language of the original sections to be unnecessarily complicated and antiquated.
In addition he said it was difficult to analyze the sections and the relation between them, as there was an overlap.
He said in light of these findings more modern and comprehensive legislative provisions were required to more effectively address the crime of extortion. The Justice Minister also noted that extortion was a “nasty form of criminal enterprise which no civilized country should attempt to ignore as the scourge of extortions dirties”.
The amended section provides that every person who makes an unwarranted demand with menaces with a view to gain for himself, or another with the intent to cause loss to another, will be guilty of the offence.
The subsection also sets out the elements of the offence of extortion that the prosecution will have to prove. A ‘demand’ under the Act, may be in writing, orally or by conduct, the terms ‘menaces’ is not limited to threats of violence and includes threats of any action detrimental or unpleasant to the person addressed.
Further, the provision places an evidential burden on the defendant to show reasonable grounds for making the demand with menaces was warranted.
Under the Act, a person found guilty will be liable on conviction before a Resident Magistrate to imprisonment with hard labour for a term not exceeding five years, and on conviction in a Circuit Court imprisonment for a term not exceeding 15 years.
Opposition Senator Dorothy Lightbourne said while the Opposition was in agreement with the recommendations, there were still questions as to the language used in the modified provision as while it had been simplified, the offences were not clarified. She said if these remained as proposed, the situation would still be an uneasy one as “things could slip through the cracks” and urged that sections 43 to 45 remained, as they covered a raft of offences.
Senator Nicholson countered that the sections were outdated and should be amended. The Bill was passed without amendment.