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Ministries slow to review paltry fines - Chuck expresses disappointment at snail’s pace to update legal penalties

Published:Saturday | September 14, 2019 | 12:08 AMLivern Barrett/Senior Parliamentary Reporter
Delroy Chuck
Delroy Chuck

The maximum $100 fine that was imposed on alleged gang leader Tesha Miller for an immigration violation remains on the books more than two years after it triggered public outcry. It spurred the Government to conduct a review of so-called paltry penalties that are still in place for hundreds of laws.

Making a false declaration to an immigration officer – the offence to which Miller pleaded guilty in April 2017 – is contained in one of the nearly 300 laws for which Justice Minister Delroy Chuck has been pushing his colleague ministers to review and increase the so-called paltry fines.

Confirming that the $100 fine remains in place, Chuck disclosed that after the public uproar over Miller’s fine, he requested that all government ministers and their permanent secretaries ask their legal officers to examine all the laws that fall under the respective ministries and update the penalties.

He revealed that within three months, the justice ministry provided a matrix of all the penalties across all the laws of Jamaica and forwarded them to all ministries.

Slow with updates

But more than two years later, he said, “quite a few ministries” have indicated that “they are still working on the matter”.

“I’m disappointed that the legal unit in the ministries have not returned the updates to the Ministry of Justice so that we can coordinate all the fines for consistency and for the ministry to propose the amended fines to the legislation committee [of Cabinet] and for the matter to go to Parliament,” Chuck said.

“Until that is done, we are going to have repetitive situations where fines of $100 or similar amounts are imposed on serious infractions and brings the whole justice system into disrepute when these minuscule fines are imposed by judges who have to comply with the law,” Chuck told The Gleaner yesterday.

Yesterday, lawmakers in the Senate followed their counterparts in the Lower House and voted to approve significantly higher fines for offences contained in nearly three dozen laws that fall under the justice ministry.

But according to Chuck’s figures, the 40 laws to which the increased fines will be applied pale in comparison to the fact that of the nearly 800 laws on the books, close to 300 still have penalties “that need to be re-examined”.

Speaking during the debate before the Law Reform (Amendment of Penalties) Act was passed, Leader of Government Business in the Senate Kamina Johnson Smith recounted how the outrage over Miller’s fine gave “additional energy, visibility, and impetus” to the review of the so-called paltry fines.

“Such an event not only offended each and every one of us, but it is also the type of event that frustrates the police. We cannot afford for criminals to be given a slap on the wrist,” she said.

Johnson Smith cautioned that “the scope of the work (review) before us is, in fact, quite wide and will have significant impact”.

“We are – step by step, carefully, and with input from each of the ministries with line responsibility – assessing the adjustments to be made. We, therefore, look forward to all ministries bringing their respective bills,” she added.

Opposition senators, led by Donna Scott Mottley, embraced the move to review the fines but cautioned that the Government may have gone “overboard”.

“When you look at some of the acts that have been reviewed and the monetary penalties increased, you will see that the result will be that we are going to end up having to build new jails,” Scott Mottley warned.