New search power - Cops, soldiers won't need warrant in specified zones if anti-crime bill passes
Revealing the Government’s latest strategy to bring rampant criminality under control, Prime Minister Andrew Holness yesterday tabled legislation that could authorise the security forces to search places, vehicles or persons within specific areas without a warrant.
The legislation, Holness said, would give him, in consultation with the National Security Council, the power to declare any geographically defined area within a single continuous boundary a zone of special operations for up to two months.
“This legislation is designed to give effect to a well-established and practised security and community-building strategy termed ‘Clear, Hold, Build’,” said Holness in his contribution to the Budget Debate in Parliament.
The prime minister said the legislation was drafted under the previous government but his administration was now taking steps to implement the law.
Holness, however, sought to allay fears that the legislation would give the security forces excessive powers to carry out extrajudicial killings.
“It is not about going in to kill people. The strategy has nothing to do with that,” he told his parliamentary colleagues.
SPECIAL OPS TRIGGERS
The Zones of Special Operations, Special Security and Community Development Measures Act, 2017, which was tabled yesterday in Parliament, highlighted the circumstances that would give rise to a declaration of a zone of special operations.
Among the circumstances listed in the bill are reasonable grounds to believe that “due to rampant criminality, gang warfare, escalating violence and murder, and the threat to the rule of law and public order, it is necessary so to do”.
A joint force, comprising members of the Jamaica Defence Force and the Jamaica Constabulary Force, will have powers under the law to establish a cordon for a period of 24 hours around or within the zone.
Additionally, the joint force can impose a curfew for up to 72 hours in the zone, during which time persons within that zone will be required to remain in their premises unless otherwise authorised in writing by a member in charge of the operation.
WITHOUT A WARRANT
The bill provides for a member of the joint force to search any place, vehicle or person within a zone, without a warrant, upon reasonable suspicion that an offence is in the course of being committed, has been, or is about to be committed.
In carrying out a search, a constable may seize any vehicle, article or document that will assist in preventing or controlling public disorder. However, the seizure of any tool of a lawful trade of business or any article or document that is subject to legal professional privilege is prohibited.
A member of the joint force “shall, as far as is possible having regard to available resources”, use a body camera when conducting operations within a zone.
The prime minister also tabled legislation to establish the Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency as an independent elite body dedicated to combating serious crimes.
Meanwhile, the Opposition Spokesman on National Security Peter Bunting said the proposed law could be unconstitutional.
“It seems to give the prime minister and the Cabinet the powers to impose a state of emergency without having the normal parliamentary review of the state of emergency which Parliament has when it (state of emergency) has to be reviewed. It also seems to give the commissioner of police the ability to impose curfews. This is something that has always been reserved for the minister who is responsible to Parliament because a curfew is another imposition on rights,” Bunting stated.
Responding to Bunting, Attorney General Marlene Malahoo-Forte said the proposed law is “as constitutional as it gets”.
The objectives of the Zones of Special Operations, Special Security and Community Development Measures Act, 2017:
- Empower the prime minister in council to declare an area a zone of special operations.
- Uphold the rule of law while protecting the fundamental rights and freedoms of persons who reside or conduct lawful business in a zone.
- Conduct law-enforcement activities to rid a zone of all illegal weapons, ammunition and other contraband.
- Empower members of the joint force to search a person, vehicle or place without a warrant, within a zone, if they reasonably suspect that an offence has been, is being or is about to be committed.
- Provide that a joint command may establish a cordon and declare a curfew in a zone.
- Promote social and economic development in a zone through the efforts of various government agencies and civil society.