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Misplaced rage!

Published:Tuesday | February 16, 2010 | 12:00 AM


The Monday
described the Minister of National Security, Dwight Nelson, as a man in a rage. Nelson was reacting to the release on bail of three kidnap suspects. I understand the minister's rage and frustration especially in light of an unbearable crime rate, a corrupt police force and warders allegedly engaged in trafficking of contraband into penal institutions.
The Gleaner
goes on to say that the minister has indicated that he will be speaking with his colleague, justice minister Dorothy Lightbourne, to fast-track the languishing crime bills and in particular to amend the Bail Act so that suspects of certain offences are not granted bail.

The minister's anger is understandable but I must issue a gentle reminder that he must be careful of his utterances. In the first instance, it could be misconstrued that the minister is violating a time-honoured constitutional arrangement of separation of powers. When the judiciary issues a judgment we must be prepared to accept that it did so on the best available evidence. We must accept that our judges are honest and upright unless the contrary is shown and we must temper our outbursts, lest it be said that we do not have faith in our judicial system.

Presumption of innocence

Second, there is a clear presumption of innocence that our constitution accords to all accused of a crime and so the minister's announcement that for some offences bail should not be granted, is troubling. We have seen numerous instances of individuals who have been accused by what appeared to be overwhelming evidence who have been later acquitted.

Third, suspects have the right to a fair hearing, and a pronouncement from the minister of national security that he should not be granted bail could be sending a signal that even before they are tried they are deemed guilty. This is a breach of a person's constitutional right and as a country we must work to preserve, not undermine, the rule of law.

The minister has, in the past, spoken about collateral damage in addition to other unfortunate statements. It is important that as we fight crime we continue to respect human rights. There is a tendency whenever a country is faced with what it perceives as a severe threat, to sacrifice human rights. We see the United Kingdom as it enacted anti-terrorism legislation and the United States Patriot's Act, all curbing the rights of citizens without any evidence that it actually makes either country more secure. Whenever there is a security concern countries have a tendency to overreach and Jamaica needs to be mindful of this. The issue of a nation's security and the human rights of its citizens are not diametrically opposed. Surely, we can find ways to restore law and order in Jamaica without sacrificing the fundamental rights of our people.

I am, etc.,

Harold Malcolm