Fri | Sep 22, 2017

Under pressure! - Legislators reviewing sex laws stressed, but may not succumb - Chuck

Published:Friday | August 18, 2017 | 8:00 AMJovan Johnson
Minister of Justice Delroy Chuck

Legislators will face a hard task in making recommendations to the Parliament on submissions made by advocates demanding stronger marital rape laws, decriminalisation of buggery, widening of the definition of rape and sexual intercourse, and raising the age of consent.

That's according to Justice Minister Delroy Chuck, who said yesterday that there was pressure on the committee made up of senators and members of parliament that heard submissions on the Sexual Offences Act and related laws.

The committee, revived after three years, completed hearings in July and is likely to put forward its recommendations in November for debate by the House.

"There is always pressure, [but] that doesn't mean we succumb to pressure," said Chuck, the committee's chairman. "In any event, we have to sit and consider all the recommendations, and based on the recommendations and submissions, we distil what has to be distilled and make our own recommendations."

It is quite clear, he said, that some of the proposals to come from the committee will not be unanimous. "There's likely to be dissenting voices whichever way you propose."

Chuck has cautioned that it should not be assumed that the Parliament will accept all the recommendations that will be made. He would not be drawn, though, in giving a position on any of the issues because, "as chairman, it's best for me to just be as neutral as possible".

One of the major issues facing the committee is whether to recommend the decriminalisation of buggery by striking down an 1864 legislation, to which Chuck, earlier this year, publicly gave support.

He reverted to the Government's position of a referendum after the Church, which he criticised, hit back at his claim that the Church was a hindrance.

Groups want to modernise legislative framework

The submissions from more than 20 groups, which argue that their proposed changes would modernise Jamaica's legislative framework, have been wide-ranging, but those on the marital rape and the widening of the definition of sexual intercourse and rape have dominated public discourse.

Many of the groups support the redefinition of rape to include boys, which evangelical and some fundamentalist Christian groups have said would circumvent the current buggery law.

Children's Advocate Diahann Gordon Harrison has pushed for the raising of the age of consent from 16 years to 18 years, but human-rights group Jamaicans for Justice has said that should not be done.

Other groups, such as the Department of Correctional Services, want the laws amended to remove the automatic registration of children as sex offenders.

The committee was forced to restart its work after a flare-up of violence against women and children late last year.

jovan.johnson@gleanerjm.com