Unlike their colleagues in the Lower House who passed the unjust anti-lottery scam bill with little fuss about its legality, the Senate has given us much reason to believe that our Parliament is not merely
a rubber stamp for decisions of the executive.
Peter Bunting, the national security minister, had said during a press conference on Thursday that the Law Reform Fraudulent Transactions (Special Provisions) Act "is scheduled for passage in the Senate tomorrow".
But when the Senate convened on Friday, the leader of government business, Senator A. J. Nicholson, without prompting from any of his colleagues, suggested that the debate be suspended to consider some of the issues raised in the public space.
"Even if the issues were raised by one or two persons in the society, it is the duty of this Senate to contemplate on the raising of those issues," Nicholson said.
Arthur Williams, the leader of opposition business, said members on his side have "some serious concerns about the bill".
Although it's late in the day, the Senate is finally demonstrating that it wants to be considered the best Senate in the history of Jamaica. The Senate could take a monumental step towards realising this dream if the Government side commits itself to amending offensive sections of the bill, if confronted with convincing arguments.
We note that Williams has undertaken to provide Justice Minister Mark Golding with a list of concerns on the bill and proposals on how to cure the ills identified. We hope Golding gives due consideration to the suggestions.
One of the major problems we have with the proposed law is that accused will be denied the opportunity of being tried before a jury of their peers. The bill has provided for trials to take place before a single judge in the Supreme Court. No one facing the perils of prison should be denied the opportunity of having a jury of their peers determine their fate, especially with this anti-lottery scam legislation being constructed on the subjectivity of the reasonable man. A single judge sitting alone is like fast-tracking the process of sending accused to prisons.
To make it worse, the bill does not provide for preliminary enquiry and we believe it's irresponsible of the Parliament to abolish preliminary enquiries, notwithstanding the fact that the Committal Proceedings Bill has just left a joint select committee.
And there is another issue. As ludicrous as attorney-at-law Bert Samuels' argument might appear about the 'telephone clause', we, too, are very concerned about the latitude provided to constables in the bill.
Said Samuels: "A person making a telephone call to harass a member of the opposite sex for sexual favours would be guilty of a 'benefit' under this law, with a maximum of 20 years' imprisonment!"
Samuels also points to what we believe is a classist section in the bill. This is Section 15(2)(b) which allows constables to seize the property of a citizen where he believes, or has reasonable grounds to believe, that it relates to an offence under the act.
Just imagine a police team stripping a house of a television set and any other appliance, or just take away a car because he believes it was purchased with the proceeds of lottery scam activity. This is too fertile a ground for victimisation, 'badmindness' and oppression.
We wonder how much work was put into the drafting of this legislation. In fact, it brings back memories of Bruce Golding's unjust 'crime bills' which promoted the abuse of the rights of citizens.
We are also uncomfortable with the proposal that a justice of the peace might issue a warrant giving the powers of search and seizure to a constable. This power, we believe, should be reserved for resident magistrates who would have a better understanding of legal principles.
Like Bunting, we believe the lottery scam represents a clear and present danger to our national security and to our economy. But we don't believe it is just to trample on the rights of citizens in a bid to prosecute the lottery scammer. Also, we should not allow the US to bully us into enacting any unjust law in the name of expediency.
Perhaps Jamaica, in the bilateral talks, should encourage the US to enact laws to penalise its citizens for gullibility. Certainly, no amount of laws, just and unjust, will be able to put a significant dent in the lottery scam as long as there remains this rich supply of persons willing to give up their monies in order to claim jackpots for which they have never purchased tickets.
We only have control on issues within our boundaries, and as far as the anti-lottery scam law goes, our Senate has the task of correcting a major error of the House. Let's hope it will rise to the occasion and help to produce a law that will make the lives of the scammers hell for their ugly deeds.
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