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Push for justice

Published:Wednesday | March 10, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Parliament OKs commission to probe state abuse

Government has moved one step closer to establishing a new commission to respond to the perennial cry for justice by Jamaicans who often claim their rights have been breached by persons exercising state power.

The Independent Commission of Investigations Act, a new legislative measure repealing the Police Public Complaints Act, was passed by lawmakers yesterday in Gordon House with 33 amendments. This paves the way for the setting up of an independent commission to probe alleged extrajudicial killings by the security forces, as well as other abuses of Jamaicans by agents of the State.

With the passage of the new piece of legislation, two agencies within the police force, the Police Public Complaints Authority and the Bureau of Special Investigations, will soon be phased out.

Discussion on the bill at the committee stage continued for hours as legislators went through the document clause by clause, seeking clarification about the implications of specific provisions.

In particular, extensive debate on the question of who should take charge of a crime scene or preserve evidence after an incident involving the security forces occupied the minds of both government and opposition members, who sought more information on the role of the commission
the security forces.

Commission has authority

After much deliberation, it was made clear that the commission will have primary responsibility to take charge at the scene of a shooting or crime where questions have been raised about state abuse.

Prime Minister Bruce Golding, who piloted the bill, said the commission had the authority to give instruction to the police as it seeks to preserve the scene of a crime.

The Independent Commission of Investigations was one of the key manifesto promises of the Jamaica Labour Party in the run-up to the 2007 general election.

The head of the independent commission will be appointed by the governor general after, consultation with the primeminister and leader of the opposition. Eligible candidates, according to the bill, must be "persons of high integrity" who have qualifications to hold office as a judge of the Supreme Court of Jamaica.

For years, public commentators and human rights groups have been agitating for an independent body to investigate police shootings and other abuses of citizens by the security forces.

The Police Public Complaints Authority, established by legislation of a similar name, comprises investigators who are members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force.

At present, public complaints about misconduct by members of the security forces have been ineffective and lacking in integrity, according to the memorandum of objects and reasons of the bill.

The Independent Commission of Investigations Act will now go to the Senate for the amendments to be approved before it is sent to the governor general for his assent.