Get legislative wheels turning
Opposition Senator Marlene Malahoo Forte in the Senate last Friday said the time has come for Jamaican governments to stop legislating in a pichy-patchy manner. She argued the strength of legislations is often undermined when accompanying laws or regulations are not passed at the same time, or in proximity to the new enactment. It is a comment The Gavel associates itself with.
For far too long, and for too often, Parliament has passed bills and they are signed into law by the governor general, but, for the most part, are useless.
We point, for example, at the regulations to put in place a sex offenders registry. Although the Sexual Offences Act was passed into law in 2009, and the law makes provision for a sex offenders registry, the regulations were only tabled in the Senate on Friday.
In effect, despite the law being in place, the state was unable to monitor sex offenders. As a result, some of these sick individuals found themselves in schools - teaching kids or as coaches.
The Gavel is of the view that some of the provisions contained in the regulations would have gone a far way in protecting communities from sexual predators. Consider, for example, the proposal that a sex offender is required to have with him at all times, a certificate of registration of sex offender, while he is away from his main residence is one that should go a far way in helping to track offenders.
We believe that sex offenders must know that the stench of their crime must follow them wherever they go. Had the regulations been in place three years ago, to require that if a sex offender finds his way from his main residence without his certificate of registration of sex offender on his person, he is guilty of an offence and is liable upon summary conviction in a Resident Magistrate's Court to a fine of up to $1 million or 12 months in prison, it would have slowed the movements of serial rapists.
But the Sexual Offences Act is not the only important piece of legislation for which the absence of regulations has left it toothless. There is also the Criminal Justice (Pleas Negotiations and Agreements) Act, which was passed in 2005 but for which the regulations were only passed in 2010. The bill enables the director of public prosecutions (DPP) to enter into plea-bargaining arrangements with persons who are before the courts on criminal charges. However, until two years ago, the DPP was a toothless bulldog as there were no regulations to allow for its operationalisation.
It is high time we get the legislative wheels turning properly. It is not sufficient to pass bills without having the regulations to give the necessary support to the bill. It is for that reason we suggest that both be drafted at the same time and be taken along the legislative wheels, like rice and peas.
Naturally, this will require that the office of the Chief Parliamentary Counsel be given adequate resources to do its job. It will also mean that parliamentarians be called up upon to sit more frequently to consider bills, regulations and White Papers from the Cabinet. That is the only way we are going to have the policy coherence that is necessary for our advancement as a society.