Sun | Oct 22, 2017

Editorial: Tread cautiously on bail reform

Published:Friday | July 10, 2015 | 12:00 AM

This newspaper urges caution on the proposed amendments to the Bail Act that could empower the Jamaican State to make an arrest without substance to support a charge, while offering bail until sufficient evidence is gathered.

That policy shift might formalise a cavalier approach towards detention, which nationals, particularly those on the socio-economic margins of society, have experienced for too long. The Jamaica Constabulary Force has nurtured a troublingly low level of trust, hardened by decades of abuse and extrajudicial killings that have disproportionately targeted poor, inner-city communities.

Such reform of the Bail Act, though perhaps well intentioned, could facilitate and further encourage discriminatory and contemptuous fishing expeditions whereby the police rake up scores of young men, throw them in the back of a truck, stuff them in already crowded cells, and sort through the maze at their leisure. That can't be tolerated.

The proposed amendments have garnered hearty support from Jamaica's police commissioner, Carl Williams. He might perceive the legislative change as a useful tool in the fight against crime. But inherent in such scattershot methodology is the likelihood for the constabulary to fall into even worse levels of investigative narcolepsy - or, frankly, rank laziness.

Instead of conducting thorough probes before arrest and handing over airtight cases to prosecutors, investigators might resort to the safe haven of putting the cart before the horse - by first entangling people in judicial bureaucracy and starting the actual investigations afterwards. That can't be tolerated.

There is another danger that might interest privacy-rights crusaders. The impending DNA legislation, if passed, could be a perfect foil for the proposed amendments, allowing for the police to arrest people on a whim for the sole purpose of harvesting DNA samples for the build-out of a national database. But perhaps we're just too cynical.