Thu | Nov 15, 2018

Security over rights and freedoms

Published:Sunday | May 3, 2015 | 12:00 AM

Security, in its broadest definition, encompasses many variables. These would include the right to be whole in your person without fear of unjustified personal violation; the sanctity of your property; and the expectation that the property benefits could devolve to the rightful owner. The ability to use the assets you have acquired to further the interest you choose without making you the target of those who would seek to reap without the labour of sowing.

Rights found a safe harbour in the laws of the land, as influenced by the type of governance to which the citizen is subject. In Jamaica, we have a liberal representative democracy. We have a written Constitution that includes a Charter of Fundamental Rights.

As a people, we also allow some cultural practices to almost take pride of place by being treated as rights. The Noise Abatement Act is honoured in the breach, as we have a 'right' to party or worship all day and all night, without regard to the interest of our neighbours. Man free! In the rural areas, we are told, "God mek land. You cannot own it, so I have a corresponding right to steal, squat, dump on and degrade by mining and deforestation. God provide water," they say. Government cannot charge me for water. That is the Jamaica of 2015.

It is in this context that I welcome the long-delayed tabling of the DNA legislation. It is not a panacea, but it is a major step on the road to more effective crime control and the reforms of the criminal justice system. It comes as a statute that forces us to have a debate on the matter of security over rights and freedoms.

As predictable as a slapped dog yelping in response, the criminal-defence lawyers are quick on the draw to express negative concerns over the legislation. They will make all the appropriate caveats, regarding the rights of those who are apprehended in the course of routine criminal investigation.

Right to the security of their person, a hallowed written Constitution provision. It is better to let one guilty person escape punishment than one innocent person suffer the indignity of a cotton swab coming into contact with their person. No mention of the nation's scourge of crime and violence. Kill 28 children. Rape multiple females and the occasional male. Society must tolerate this. Not to dare even to mention the 1,000-plus murders each year.

The scrap metal industry flourishes because of our insatiable appetite for grilled residences. The economy could be starved of 5% additional GDP growth per year. That is acceptable. The poverty level climbs. The foreign direct investment is affected. The country is starved of job creation, as no sane business person would contemplate a second or third shift. That is an acceptable trade-off as against the State having control of your individualised DNA analysis.

The State currently has 1.6 million fingerprints at the Electoral Office. The safeguards have been effectively implemented. However, we are incapable as a country of putting in the state-of-the-art equipment, procedures and policy directives to make sure the DNA is only used for the legitimate purpose. Where does the vested interest of the society begin as against the right of the individual citizen?




Do we need economic sustainable development to create jobs, create wealth and support health care, education and the beloved quality of life? Do we need the discipline that is an integral part of socialisation arising from the structure of learning and family life? Do we need proper crime scene investigation for the hair, sample blood splatter, semen and other bodily fluids? Will this narrow the potential suspects? What is the value of swift capture?

Now we have the recent apprehension of an alleged rapist who is believed to have been involved with as many as 12 prior occurrences. Yes, he is now charged with the Irwin, St James, atrocity of raping five females, including a little girl. We must have capture followed by a fair trial with all the due process safeguards. The innocent will be exonerated and guilty punished.

Nothing invented by man is totally infallible. Where is the balance to be found? Is it in the interest of our country to have the criminal activity and the defence industry they spawn dictate the quality of life for the rest of us? Would you trade some rights and freedoms for greater personal and societal security? Let us debate, but have the law come into effect and verify its impact. Let us truly fight crime and not continue to cringe in the face of opposition.

There are some things that have been in the focus. Should jewellery stores be advertising that they buy old gold and silver? Does this not create a market for jewellery thieves as well as the legitimate owners of old gold? What is being aided and abetted?

Is advocacy a charity? Are all lobbyists advocates for national interest or their own narrow benefits? When did they lose charity-status designation? Was it in the year 2008? Who is misleading who?

Could it be that the leader of the Opposition will breach the Constitution and have no sanction applied, neither by the country nor his party? Maybe not now, but certainly tomorrow.

- Ronald Mason is an immigration attorney and Supreme Court mediator. Email feedback to and