Mon | Sep 28, 2020

SOE detention powers could be challenged in courts

Published:Monday | October 21, 2019 | 12:06 AMChristopher Thomas/Gleaner Writer


The president of the Cornwall Bar Association (CBA) is suggesting that sections of the Emergency Powers Act may need to be challenged in the Constitutional Court in order to bring an end to questionable detention practices under states of emergency (SOEs).

“What might be required is for the statute to be challenged before the Constitutional Court to have aspects of it struck down,” CBA President Lambert Johnson told The Gleaner in an interview last Friday. “The statute, as established, does great violence to the usual protocol and excludes the court, and if it was challenged, aspects of the Emergency Powers Bill would be struck down by the Constitutional Court.”

Johnson made the comment as he lamented continuous reports of persons being kept in detention under the current SOE in Westmoreland even after the courts have authorised their release.

He said he was aware of at least three such cases in the parish, with one of the persons being represented by attorney-at-law Don Foote.

“Mr Foote has complained bitterly that his client has been offered bail and the police have refused to release him, and Mr Foote is making a civil claim for false imprisonment,” said Johnson. “I know of two other cases in Westmoreland where persons were in custody for more than 12 months. The matters went to the circuit court and the judge offered them bail, and the day that the persons took up their bail, the police took them into custody under the SOE.”

The attorney added that there were no such reports in Hanover or St James, which, along with Westmoreland, are under the three-parish SOE in the western end of the island.

“We’ve gotten no reports from the other western parishes, so Westmoreland seems to be the only parish with that affliction at this time. It’s very concerning, and I don’t know the authorities’ reason for doing so, but how is it that persons can be held under the SOE when they were in custody for more than a year?” asked Johnson.

The SOE in St James, Hanover and Westmoreland was declared on April 30 and, following extensions, is now set to end on January 27, 2020.

Up to October 8, some 1,894 persons had been detained under the SOE in the three parishes. Approximately 90 were in custody last week.