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Police give details of proposed pre-charge detention

Published:Thursday | March 14, 2019 | 12:00 AMLivern Barrett/Senior Parliamentary Reporter

Member of Parliament for Central Manchester Peter Bunting yesterday invoked the state of public emergency (SOE) imposed in St James last year to illustrate his unease about a proposal by the police that the anti-gang law be amended to allow investigators to detain suspected gangsters for up to 14 days without criminal charge.

Bunting expressed his scepticism even after the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF), through his attorney, presented details about the proposal, which is aimed at removing suspected gangsters from the spaces in which they operate while allowing police investigators to complete their probe of the gang’s activities.

The suggestion was first posited last November when a joint select committee of Parliament commenced a review of the Criminal Justice (Suppression of Criminal Organisations) Act, commonly called the anti-gang law.

Yesterday, Alethia Whyte, director of the JCF’s Legal Unit, told the parliamentary committee that under the proposal, a person suspected of committing an offence under the act would be detained for seven days in the first instance. This can be extended by a parish judge for not more than seven additional days.

During the period of the initial seven days, Whyte said, the detention must be automatically reviewed by a justice of the peace (JP)) every 24 hours. “Twenty-four hours provide a sufficient balance between giving the police the time to progress their investigations and ensuring that the review of the person’s detention is conducted within a reasonable time,” she explained.

Serious concerns

However, Bunting, a former minister of national security, raised concerns that this was “the same justification given during the St James SOE. Yet we had dozens of persons detained for months at a time ... taken out of the community so it would allow the cases to be built, and at the end of one year of state of emergency the persons had to be released”, he said.

“After one year, there were still no cases built against them that they could be charged. So I’m not sure that justification still stands up because you had a chance to prove it last year, and I’m not aware of any of these organised crime cases being put together during that opportunity,” Bunting argued.

Minister of National Security Dr Horace Chang, who chairs the committee, said that he expects that when someone is held under the proposed pre-charge detention investigators would already have a fair amount of information and “quality evidence” that needs to be confirmed.

“It’s a different situation from the SOE, where we were looking at disrupting and taking hold of violence producers,” Chang insisted.

While indicating that she shared Bunting’s concerns, Attorney General Marlene Malahoo-Forte pointed out, too, that some persons were detained “for their own protection” during the SOE.

Bunting said that if the proposed amendment is to be enacted, it should not exceed seven days and “certainly, within the first 48 hours, it should come before a magistrate for review”.