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Holness: SOE legal challenges hamper crime-fighting

Published:Wednesday | December 2, 2020 | 12:16 AMAlbert Ferguson/Gleaner Writer
Prime Minister Andrew Holness (centre) and National Security Minister Dr Horace Chang (second from left) break ground for the construction of a new police station in Mt Salem, St James, last week. The other persons are (from left) Omar Sweeney, managing di
Prime Minister Andrew Holness (centre) and National Security Minister Dr Horace Chang (second from left) break ground for the construction of a new police station in Mt Salem, St James, last week. The other persons are (from left) Omar Sweeney, managing director of the Jamaica Social Investment Fund; Dr Wayne Henry, chairman of the Jamaica Social Investment Fund; Major General Anthony Anderson, police commissioner; and Marlene Malahoo-Forte, attorney-general and member of parliament for St James West Central.

WESTERN BUREAU:

PRIME MINISTER Andrew Holness has said that the absence of states of public emergency (SOEs) is making it more difficult to create a safe and secure Jamaica.

In January 2018, the Holness administration declared a SOE in St James, under the Emergency Powers Act of 1938, to combat the wave of lawlessness after the parish registered an unprecedented 335 murders in 2017 and started 2018 with the same bloody rampage, which had residents cowering in fear and begging for enhanced security.

“It is my job and duty to ensure the safety of every single citizen of Jamaica, and whatever I must do to ensure that you are safe, you have my assurance that I will be doing it, and I am doing it,” said Holness, after participating in the groundbreaking ceremony for the new Mt Salem Police Station last week. “It is a difficult balancing act because we now do not have the tools of the SOEs because it is being questioned and challenged.”

Drawing reference to a recent newspaper editorial, which indicated that he has no luck with constitutional matters and the ongoing debate about whether or not the SOE is constitutional, Holness says he will continue to take decisive actions in the best interest of all Jamaicans.

UNLAWFUL DETENTIONS

“I am not looking out to be lucky and I am not gambling with the safety and security of the citizens of Jamaica. I have to act with certainty and decisiveness,” stated Holness.

In September, Justice Bertram Morrison ruled that the continuous detention of five men, without charging them, under the SOE was unconstitutional. It was pointed out that there was no justification presented by the Government to facilitate a proportional assessment of the legitimate objective behind the claimants’ detention.

The High Court judge also ruled that the detention orders under the SOEs on which Courtney Hall, Everton Douglas, Nicholas Heath, Courtney Thompson, and Gavin Noble were arrested and held were unlawful.

Stung by the Supreme Court’s ruling on the SOEs, which forms part of his crime plan, Holness said the Government will not allow criminals to derail the gains made under the SOEs, and further noted that his administration will seek to address the constitutional concerns that have been raised.

“We will resolve whatever constitutional issues that are raised but we cannot allow the criminals to feel as if they now have impunity, and some of them even feel they have immunity. I don’t see the law as an obstacle … I don’t see it as a chain,” continued Holness. “Compliance with what is legal and constitutional is not something that is optional. The Government of Jamaica must always be in compliance with the laws it sets.

“Some of them (criminals) feel that even when they are in prison that they are free, according to some videos that I see circulating. That cannot happen and continue without consequence in our society. I happened to know that that incident and other such incidents will be dealt with seriously in the correctional services,” added Holness.

Holness said as the Government continues to address the constitutional issues in question, it will have to find other security measures in the interim to address the crime problems.

“We will have to find other measures, but they may not be as effective in the sense of the immediacy of the response and the sustainability of the response,” said Holness.

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