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'Nonsense!' - Boyne under fire for wanting Jamaicans' rights curtailed to fight crime

Published:Sunday | January 8, 2017 | 12:00 AMJovan Johnson
Harrison Henry

Public Defender Arlene Harrison Henry, a defence lawyer and human-rights activist, says the proposal by influential journalist Ian Boyne for Prime Minister Andrew Holness to curtail the rights of Jamaicans to address crime should be rejected for its 'unlawfulness'.

Boyne, in his column in The Sunday Gleaner yesterday, branded rights advocates, defence lawyers, and members of the media as elites "who harshly criticise the Government for not doing something now when nothing they are proposing can have any practical effect on crime now".

"I am calling for locking down certain communities, locking away certain known crime perpetrators; going into homes without search warrants and stopping vehicles on the road. Curtail some of my civil liberties in the interest of all. You can't have human rights if there is not a viable State," he wrote, urging Holness to 'resist' efforts to undermine plans to address the crime problem this year.

However, Harrison Henry said those suggestions should be rejected.

"Mr Boyne's aim is for the reduction of crime, and that is laudable. The methods he has prescribed, however, have already been tried, tested and proved not to work. So let us not forget that Tivoli Gardens incursion in 2010."

She argued that some of the old methods included the Suppression of Crime Act of 1974 that was repealed in 1993 after yielding little results except for the alleged abuses of citizens' rights. Tied to that is the creation of various special police units over the years that earned the wrath of rights campaigners for their actions.

"At the risk of being regarded by Boyne as one of the human-rights fundamentalists, what we're saying is that crime-fighting measures will not succeed if people's rights are disregarded. Crime is a societal problem and it cannot be solved without the full involvement of communities."

Jamaican authorities are struggling to contain crime, particularly murders - the key indicator. About 1,350 people were murdered last year, 11 per cent more than 2015. That's a rate of about 45 homicides per 100,000 of the population.

Rights campaigner Horace Levy said the figure is high, but the "nonsense" proposed by Boyne will not do anything to address the problem.

"It simply has not worked. For decades, we've been doing that. It's absolute rubbish! Absolute rubbish!" Levy said.

"And, we in the civil society, and I'm sure the Jamaican Bar Association, will also be involved in it, will fight any attempt to bring back this business of barging into peoples' houses without search warrants and limiting their right to bail. I'm disappointed in Boyne because he usually writes good sense," added Levy, the executive director of Jamaicans for Justice.

On the issue of searching houses without warrants, Patrick Atkinson, defence lawyer and former attorney general, said Boyne should volunteer his house first.

"I would like them to start by going in and locking down his community, and stop and search his car, and going into his house without a warrant. Since he's willing to do that, let them start there," he said.

"It is just a recycled diatribe that occurs every time that there is a crime spike. When you have these spikes in crimes, they call on police to stop it. They call on lawyers to be silent. They feel it necessary to dismiss lawyers by referring to them as high-priced lawyers, as if that is some kind of a crime. They don't speak about high-priced doctors or high-priced journalists. If you're a lawyer, nobody has a clue what your fees are and that people somehow, by hiring lawyers, it facilitates them committing crime. It is all nonsense.

"To stop crime is really not the police's job," said Atkinson.

"The police are there primarily to go and investigate crimes that have been committed."

His successor in the attorney general's chambers, Marlene Malahoo-Forte, renewed the debate about rights and crime last May when she told the Parliament that "fundamental rights and freedoms guaranteed to Jamaicans may have to be abrogated, abridged or infringed" to address crime.

Holness noted in his New Year's Day message that legislative changes were coming, but gave no specifics. The public defender, meanwhile, said her office was prepared to fight any unlawful proposal.