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Chuck gets ball rolling on updating outdated court fines

Published:Wednesday | February 27, 2019 | 12:00 AMLivern Barrett/Senior Parliamentary Reporter

Lawmakers yesterday began debate on proposed legislation to increase the fine from a paltry $40 to a maximum of $1 million for anyone found guilty of assaulting a police officer, a justice of the peace, or a court employee in the execution of their duties.

Similarly, under the Law Reform (Amendment of Penalties) Act 2019, the penalties of $20 or one month in prison now on the books for anyone found guilty of taking pictures, attempting to take a picture or make a portrait of a prisoner in court and publish them would be increased to $1 million or one year in prison.

The proposed law is part of the reform agenda being spearheaded by Justice Minister Delroy Chuck and seeks to update the low, outdated fines still on the books for a range of offences.

The review was set in motion nearly two years ago after reputed gang leader Tesha Miller was fined the maximum $100 for making a false declaration to local immigration officials, turning the country’s justice system into a laughing stock.

“The criminals laugh at law-abiding citizens in this great nation when they break the law and are given a slap on the wrist because the court is constrained in how much they can penalise them,” Chuck declared as he kicked off the debate in the House of Representatives.

“This is long overdue,” he insisted.

The justice minister said in addition to updating the penalties, the review will help to ensure consistency in the penalties provided across all laws.

He cited, as an example, the $200 fine or one month in prison stipulated in the Witnesses Expenses Act for anyone found guilty of failing to obey a subpoena, summons or process order that is lawfully issued by the court without a reasonable excuse.

“However, under the Commissions of Enquiry Act, the similar offence attracts a maximum fine of up to $1 million. This is just one of the inconsistencies that currently exists in our law,” Chuck pointed out.

TEDIOUS PROCESS

 

According to him, the proposed legislation was crafted after the Legal Reform Department undertook a project through which more than 800 laws were reviewed. While noting that the process was tedious, the minister said great effort was made to ensure that “every single outdated penalty was captured”.

 

He said arising from the review, recommendations were made to the various government ministries for the updating of laws that fall within their remit. Chuck said he was starting with his ministry and urged his Cabinet colleagues to follow his lead.

 

The debate was suspended indefinitely after Chuck’s presentation.

 

livern.barrett@gleanerjm.com