Editorial: Outsourcing sovereignty
We are yet to be convinced by the Government's arguments in favour of giving to the security minister the power for the unilateral extradition - for that's what it amounts to - of Jamaican citizens who may be apprehended on the high seas on vessels transporting contraband.
Indeed, the planned legislative change is more a declaration of a lack of confidence in Jamaica's law-enforcement and judicial systems, rather than an effort at enhanced operational efficiency, which the Government is seeking to address by an outsourcing of sovereignty.
In some respects, the matter has echoes of the Shiprider controversy of the late 1990s, to which an earlier People's National Party administration, headed by P.J. Patterson, adopted a different posture. Then, the Government baulked at the American Coast Guard's chasing of drug smugglers into Jamaican waters without the approval of the Jamaican authorities, or their arrest of Jamaicans in the country's seas in the absence of Jamaican law-enforcement officers.
Under the existing Maritime Drug Trafficking (Suppression) Act, if a state that is a signatory of the United Nations conventions against narcotics apprehends a Jamaican flagged vessel on the seas outside its territorial waters, Kingston may waive its right of jurisdiction over that vessel and to "authorise the relevant treaty state to enforce its laws against that vessel, its cargo and persons found on board other than Jamaican nationals".
Considered another way, if that foreign treaty state wished to try that Jamaican national for a crime, it, presumably, would have to have him extradited first, which would mean a process in the Jamaican courts. The Government is seeking to change this protection of Jamaican nationals by allowing for a broader ministerial power of waiver.
The bill passed the Lower House without murmur, but has run into fierce cross-party opposition in the Senate, where the sharpest criticism has come from K.D. Knight, a former national security minister, who, in 1998, piloted the original bill. Indeed, Knight reminded the Senate that the controversial provision was contemplated in the law, but was excised during the debate in the House.
However, Mark Golding, the current justice minister, has essentially argued this power for Jamaica to waive its rights over its nationals is because while the evidence and information are in another jurisdiction, it is difficult for local law enforcement to effectively prosecute the case, so "the culprits go scot-free".
While we appreciate the difficulties to which Golding alluded, it seems to us that the administration's proposed fix sidesteps the real solutions. First, states with which Jamaica has extradition arrangements can seek just that, which would hopefully not mean the resistance by the State as happened in the Christopher Coke affair. Let the courts, as Knight suggests, rule on fair play and natural justice, rather than leaving it to ministerial prerogative or arbitrariness.
But of equal importance is the need to fix the law-enforcement and justice systems so that people can be assured that cases are efficiently and fairly prosecuted and adjudicated, rather than depending on foreign courts, on which Jamaica seems to increasingly depend in sensitive criminal cases.
Jamaica can't just outsource all its problems.