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Crime bill passed - Senate approves Zones of Special Operations law after marathon debate

Published:Friday | July 7, 2017 | 12:00 AMEdmond Campbell
The security forces now have stronger support in carrying out their duties in crime-prone communities across Jamaica with yesterday’s passing of the Zones of Special Operations Bill in the Senate.

Despite lingering concerns about some provisions in the Zones of Special Operations Bill, opposition senators joined their Government counterparts to pass the legislation, signalling that the Andrew Holness administration is one step closer to rolling out a new legislative framework to tackle rampant criminality.

After approximately 12 hours of debate, the Senate gave the Zones of Special Operations Bill the green light with 13 amendments.

Earlier during the debate, former attorney general and government senator Ransford Braham dismissed suggestions that the legislation was being used to introduce a state of emergency through the back door. He also challenged previous claims by Opposition Spokesman on Justice Senator Mark Golding that the bill was unconstitutional.

"A state of emergency is so wide and far-reaching and deep in its effect that to compare the two is, at the very least, unwise," Braham said.

State Minister in the Ministry of National Security Pearnel Charles Jr, who piloted the bill in the Upper House, said that the Government intends to use this law to target criminals and rebuild communities.

"Far too many mistakes have been made in the past, but we cannot afford to retreat or be defeated by those circumstances," he said.


Not an antidote for crime


In his contribution to the debate, Golding, the leader of opposition business in the Upper House, urged the Government to consider a proposal that a tribunal comprising three justices of the peace be established within a zone so that they can be available to provide legal recourse to citizens who believe their rights have been infringed upon by the security forces.

Highlighting a litany of factors he said were contributing to Jamaica's high rate of violent crimes, Golding said the Zones of Special Operation Bill was not an antidote to any of these issues.

He said there is the need for improvement in the diligence with which cases are brought and prepared by the police into the court system. "The delays in the Gun Court are egregious; conviction rate in the Gun Court is a mere 30 per cent and the cases languish there for an extended period of time," he said.

Declaring that the Zones of Special Operations law is not a panacea, senior lawmaker K.D. Knight cautioned that the new law alone could not solve Jamaica's crime problem.

He urged politicians, including those outside the legislature, to play a more active role in reversing the crime wave affecting the country.

According to Knight, at least two political figures from as far back as the 1960s were major instigators of political violence and this escalated during the 1980 general election when more than 800 people were killed.

"Politicians have something to answer and politicians have a role to play in how we are going to reverse this trend."