Editorial | Strengthen extradition law
In the event that people don't know, or have forgotten, the West Kingston events of May 2010, on which a commission of enquiry report was issued last week, had a long gestation period.
It was after nine months of attempting to contort its way out of its obligations that Bruce Golding's government, through its attorney general, Dorothy Lightbourne, finally succumbed to public pressure and signed the order to proceed with America's request to extradite the Tivoli Gardens-based crime boss, Christopher Coke. In the event, Coke had time to assemble a private militia and fortify his redoubt. The operation by the security forces to arrest him resulted in the deaths of nearly 70 civilians.
It is against this background that the West Kingston commission recommended - and we agree - an amendment to Section 8 of Jamaica's Extradition Act, establishing "a finite time" within which the responsible minister must make a decision on the authority to proceed in an extradition request. Currently, there is no time frame within which the minister must act. So, as Ms Lightbourne did, these matters can be dragged out.
Mr Golding's explanation for the delay in the Coke matter was that his government was responding to a larger principle: the protection of the constitutional rights of a Jamaican citizen. Others, however, assumed that his judgement was clouded by other factors. Tivoli Gardens is, perhaps, the most archetypal of Jamaica's so-called garrison communities, and West Kingston, where it is located, was the epicentre of muscled support for the Jamaica Labour Party, of which Mr Golding was leader. Coke exercised power and influence.
In any event, as the West Kingston commissioners observed, magistrates involved in extradition proceedings are not attempting to determine a person's innocence or guilt. And, in any event, an individual who is the subject of an extradition request "is not stopped from invoking such legal challenges to the request as he/she may be advised".
In this regard, and given that the final authority for extradition remains a political act, resting with the minister, the Holness Government could well consider going beyond the commission's recommendation by also amending Section 9 of the act dealing with provisional warrants for the arrest of a person for whom there is an extradition request. In these circumstances, a magistrate (now a parish judge), having received information that a person wanted for extradition is in Jamaica, may issue a warrant for his arrest, but is obligated to forthwith inform the minister of his action. The minister can decide not to proceed, in which event the person is released.
The law requires that in issuing a warrant of arrest, the magistrate should be satisfied with the information that it would authorise the arrest for a similar offence in his/her jurisdiction. That requirement could be expanded to include the need for supporting documentation provided by the requesting state in the normal course of events.
In this regard, the initial phase of extradition matters would be primarily a judicial issue, placing the greater burden to get proceedings going with the competent authority, who acts on behalf of the requesting state, rather than the political issue. This would not obviate the political executive having the final authority to extradite, taking into account foreign-policy considerations and international political human-rights law.