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Speech

The House will recall that on June 17th, in my intervention in the sectoral debate, I outlined a number of measures that had been taken and were being contemplated to tackle the problem of crime.
Our initial response was to intensify policing efforts both by increasing patrols and security presence in vulnerable areas across the country and by targeting crime hotspots with the aim of apprehending those involved in criminal activity and restoring order to communities over whelmed by gang war.
A number of task forces drawn from both the police and the military were assembled and deployed. A joint Task Force Command Centre was established. Steps have been and continue to be taken to increase their effectiveness by improved mobility and the provision of critical equipment. The operations are intelligence-driven and strategically co-ordinated.
We have begun to see encouraging results from these initiatives. In May, the murder toll reached the astonishing level of 202. In June, that number declined by a third to 135. Data for the month of July shows a continuation of that downward trend. For the first 20 days of this month, 69 murders were reported – a 26 % reduction from the 93 recorded for the same period in June and 46% reduction when compared to 128 murders reported for the comparable period in May. Since the beginning of June, the police have arrested 269 persons for serious crimes and recovered 74 illegal guns.
I wish to place on record the appreciation of the government, this entire House and, indeed, the people of Jamaica and to commend the security forces for the efforts they are making and the success they have so far achieved.
But we have a long way to go. These efforts must be continued and sustained if the country is to be returned to a state where our people can feel safe and secure. Further measures are being taken to strengthen policing capability and intensify crime prevention and apprehension operations.
I had previously indicated to the House the need for an expansion of statutory powers appropriate to the severity of the threat currently posed to the nation’s security. The normal statutory provisions designed for peacekeeping in an orderly environment are not sufficient to respond to the abnormal levels of criminal activity to which the society has been exposed.
Over the last few weeks, intense discussions have been held between the government and Opposition to arrive at a common approach in the design and implementation of these measures. Discussions have also been held with other critical stakeholders and their views have been carefully and respectfully considered.
I now wish to announce that the current efforts to reduce crime will be strengthened by the introduction of the following initiatives:
1. Extended detention of criminal suspectsThe period for which a person can be detained on reasonable suspicion and in the interest of public safety or public order or for the purpose of preventing or detecting crime before being taken before a Resident magistrate will be extended from 24 to 72 hours. Such detention shall be authorized only by police officer of a rank no less than Assistant Commissioner and can only be done within a locality which is the subject of a cordon or curfew order or in respect of a person suspected of being involved in criminal activity within the locality.
A person so detained must be taken forthwith before a Justice of the Peace who may order that the person be detained for no longer that 72 hours at the expiration of which he/she must either be released or taken before a Resident Magistrate.
2. Restrictions on the granting of bailThe Bail Act is to be amended to provide that a person charged with a serious crime shall not, for a period of 60 days be granted bail in an instance where:(a) He is charged for murder, treason, serious firearm offences, arson of a dwelling house or extortion.(b) He has had a previous conviction for other specified offences (drug trafficking, kidnapping, sexual offences, intimidation of witnesses or persons connected to judicial proceedings).Where a person is charged with offences mentioned in (b) but has no previous conviction for any of the offences specified in (a) or (b), there will be the presumption against bail and it will be for the person so charged to show cause why bail should be granted.
Provision will be made in instances where bail is granted for the prosecution to have the right of appeal against the granting of bail and to seek a stay of execution pending the hearing of the appeal.
3. Sentencing provisionsWhile legislation prescribes maximum sentences, it is within the discretion of the judge to determine the sentence to be imposed in each particular case. The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in England has ruled that mandatory sentences are unconstitutional. The Legislature, however, has the right to signal to the Court the firmness of its intention that serious crimes must attract serious punishment.
The law relating to penalties for murder in which the sentence does not involve the death penalty stipulates minimum periods of imprisonment that must be served before a convicted person is eligible for parole.
It is proposed to introduce legislation to specify that on conviction for serious gun crimes a person shall not be eligible for parole before 10 years.
4. Qualified majority verdict in non-capital murder convictionsConviction for murder (both capital and non-capital) requires a unanimous verdict of the jury. Where such a verdict is not obtained, the jury is dismissed and a retrial ordered.
It is proposed to amend the existing provisions to allow acceptance of a majority verdict in the case of non-capital murder. Such majority must not be less that 9 out of 12. The requirement for a unanimous verdict in the case of capital murder where the ultimate sentence is death will be retained.
5. Access to restricted information held by other State agenciesAccess to restricted information held by other State agencies can assist the Security Forces considerably in the detection and apprehension of crime. These agencies, however, are prohibited from divulging information except in specified circumstances which vary widely. For example, the Income Tax Act prohibits the disclosure of information without the written authorization of the Minister. The Banking Act provides that such disclosure can only be made with the approval of the Minister or on the order of a Court. The Corruption Prevention Act and the Parliament (Integrity of Members) Act make no such allowance.
It is proposed to make provision for the Commissioner of Police or Chief of Defence Staff, or an officer designated by either of them, to apply to a judge in Chambers for authorization to obtain information form these State agencies in criminal investigations.
6. Use of DNA for evidential purposesDNA technology has become an important tool in securing conviction where other means of evidence have failed. It also serves to ensure exoneration where persons would other wise have been wrongfully convicted.
The law already provides for fingerprints and photographs to be taken of persons who have been charged wit criminal offences, It is proposed to extend these provisions to include the taking of non-invasive DNA samples and the establishment of a DNA database to govern access to and use of these samples. Provisions will be made for the person to have the right to obtain a copy of the DNA profile.
7. New provisions for witness testimonyOur criminal justice system is been undermined by the intimidation of witnesses and the fear which they feel in coming forward to testify in court.
It is proposed to amend the Evidence Act to male provision for:. The giving of evidence and cross-examination of vulnerable witnesses from secure and remote locations. The use of video-taped witness statements. Video-linked testimony for accused persons from remand centres.