Sat | Dec 15, 2018

Anti-gang legislation to protect witnesses

Published:Thursday | November 15, 2018 | 12:00 AM

Immunity from civil liability and the use of false names by witnesses are among a raft of measures that have been proposed by the Ministry of National Security to strengthen Jamaica's anti-gang legislation.

Further, the national security ministry wants the law targeting criminal gangs to include new provisions that would allow law-enforcement authorities to obtain a warrant for search and seizure and the automatic application of a forfeiture order for persons convicted of gang-related crimes.

The proposals, which were made before a parliamentary committee that is reviewing the legislation, come in the wake of a study which pointed to a number of deficiencies in the Criminal Justice (Suppression of Criminal Organisations) Act.

The legislation came into effect four years ago, but according to the ministry, only two convictions have resulted from the 448 cases in which someone was arrested and charged for breaches of the act.

Police statistics show that up to the end of last year, there were 274 active criminal gangs across the island with more than 9,000 members. According to the police, 77 are considered major organised criminal enterprises.

The police revealed, too, that 985, or 61 per cent, of the 1,616 murders recorded in Jamaica last year were gang-related.

Rohan Richards, chief technical director in the Ministry of National Security, said a 2014 study commissioned by the Government found, among other things, that judges, prosecutors and investigators "differ considerably" on their interpretation of the legislation, including what exactly constitutes a criminal organisation.

Further, he said the study found that the act does not allow for the interception of communication.

But Richards, in a presentation before the joint select committee of both Houses of Parliament on Tuesday, suggested that the use of pseudo names would provide a greater incentive for witnesses who are gang members to give evidence against other in their criminal enterprise.