Sat | Dec 4, 2021

Gov’t eyes fresh SOEs

Lawmakers debate amendment to Emergency Powers law

Published:Thursday | October 21, 2021 | 12:09 AMKimone Francis/Senior Staff Reporter
Security forces at a State of Emergency (SOE) checkpoint at North Street in downtown Kingston after the Prime Minister announced an initial 14-day SOE in the Kingston Western and Central Police divisions on Sunday, June 14, 2020
Security forces at a State of Emergency (SOE) checkpoint at North Street in downtown Kingston after the Prime Minister announced an initial 14-day SOE in the Kingston Western and Central Police divisions on Sunday, June 14, 2020

A year after a landmark ruling by the Supreme Court that the months-long detention of five men without charge was unconstitutional, the Government has revisited aspects of the Emergency Powers Act in hopes of satisfying the requirements of the court with respect to States of Pubic Emergency (SOEs).

Justice Minister Delroy Chuck on Wednesday opened the debate on the proposed amendments to the act, which is expected to bring it in line with the Constitution.

Clause 2 of the act has been amended to include a definition for ‘period of public disaster’ and would reflect a similar definition in the section of the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms.

Chuck said the penalty provisions in the act were also amended to include a new provision that will give the relevant minister power to change the penalties by order subject to affirmative resolution.

Last September, the Supreme Court ruled that the detention orders for the men, which, under the SOEs, were issued by National Security Minister Dr Horace Chang, were unlawful.

POWER BREACH

The court ruled that the use of the orders for the detention of the men for criminal cases without proper review breached the doctrine of separation of powers.

Chuck admitted that the amendments should have been made in 2013 when the Charter was enacted but could not say why this was not done.

“I cannot explain the omission, however, since the courts have recently pointed it out, we have taken these steps to comply,” he told the House.

Chang, meanwhile, argued that that the current level of violent crimes constitutes a public emergency.

Noting that the regional average for murders stands at 17.2 per 100,000 and the world average at 6.1 per 100, 000, the security minister said that at the end of 2017, the murder rate in St James alone was 186.5 per 100,000.

At the end of last year, the minister said murders within the Area Four Police Division were 77 per 100,000 in Kingston Eastern; 197.3 per 100, 000 in Kingston Central; 172.8 in Kingston Western; 77 per 100,000 in St Andrew South; and 78.5 per 100, 000 in St Andrew Central.

“If these murder rates do not signal a security emergency that warrants an emergency security response, then at what point do we accept that we are in an emergency?” he questioned.

The minister argued that through the use of SOEs, the security forces have been able to utilise intelligence to detain criminals while building evidence to prosecute.

Chang described as “utter rubbish” criticism that the security forces under SOEs were arbitrarily detaining residents.

According to the security minister, upon ending SOEs in August last year, the police had detained 240 persons.

He said that approximately 50 per cent of those detained were charged and the others released, noting that many of the latter group have been contributing to the inter-gang violence.

“The others who have been released are identified and known gangsters. Several migrated immediately. Several have been shot in gang wars, and some have returned to incarceration because of their own acts and at this point, we have the evidence to lock them up,” Chang told the House.

The debate is expected to conclude next Tuesday when Opposition leader Mark Golding will make his contribution.

kimone.francis@gleanerjm.com