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JPs out west concerned about ‘special zones’

Published:Wednesday | July 26, 2017 | 12:00 AMAdrian Frater

Western Bureau:

While it would appear that the Government is now ready to roll out the new zones of special operations initiative, lay magistrates, who are expected to play a pivotal role in its implementation, are still unsure of what role they will play as they have not been trained for that job.

"We are very concerned because, while we have heard that justices of the peace (JPs) will be playing an important oversight role, that is where it has stopped," a senior western Jamaica-based JP, who has asked not to be identified, told The Gleaner. "No form of training is taking place and there is much uncertainty as to what will happen."

With some concerned stakeholders already raising questions about the legality of aspects of the zones of special operations law, in regards to the Charter of Rights, the senior JP said that it is of critical importance that the Ministry of Justice brings them up to speed on what will be expected of them. That, they said, would allow them to operate in comfort when the time comes.

"Personally, I would not want to be involved in anything that is not absolutely clear, from a legal perspective, because, you never know, there might be some legal challenges," said the JP. "Knowing the history of how the police and military operate when they are given unfettered powers, we need to have clear rules of engagement as JPs."

... To meet with justice minister

Shortly after the new zones of special operations law was enacted, government senator Charles Sinclair, while supportive of the initiative, told The Gleaner that before any implementation, two important prerequisites must be addressed. They include the training of justices of the peace (JPs) and a sensitisation campaign to educate the public on how the provisions would affect their lives.

"The JPs will have to be specially trained, as they will be required to keep records of matters such as citizens' complaints, among other accountability matters," Sinclair said. "Proper oversight will be needed to ensure that all the actions taken are up to acceptable standards."

Efforts to get a perspective from the Ministry of Justice and the Lay Magistrates Association of Jamaica (LMAJ) on the concerns outlined by a senior JP were unsuccessful. However, a reliable source in the LMAJ said that the organisation's president, Errol Greene, was fully aware of the concerns of the JPs in the west and was taking steps to address the concerns.

"Our president has raised the matter with Justice Minister Delroy Chuck and the minister has asked for a meeting with all senior justices this Saturday at 10 a.m. at his ministry," the source said. "My understanding is that he will discuss the legislation and explain the role that the JPs will play when the zones of special operations become functional."

With western Jamaica now the epicentre of the nation's crime problem, it is expected that the region will get the first taste of the special zone initiative.