Prime Minister Andrew Holness has expressed hope that a “wise position” will be arrived at by the island’s second highest court in relation to the use of states of emergency (SOE).
The matter of the constitutionality of the SOEs is yet to be decided on by the Court of Appeal.
Critics, including the Opposition People’s National Party (PNP), have largely opposed the Government’s use of the SOEs as a major crime-fighting tool, citing alleged constitutional breaches relative to extended detentions of some persons who are arrested, without charges being laid against them.
In addressing the ground-breaking ceremony for the Little London Police Station in Westmoreland on Thursday, Holness maintained that the SOEs are important tools to bring peace to communities which are under seize by criminals.
“If the laws are brought under question, it is the duty of the Government to ensure that those questions are properly resolved, responded to, (and) guided by our judicial system, and that is the process in which we are now,” said Holness.
“I do, however, hope that a wise position will prevail on the use of emergency powers. It is an important tool to bring peace and security and give communities that are at war and captured by criminals… a chance to live in peace,” he added.
The Government’s reliance on SOEs were hampered after a Supreme Court ruling in September 2020 determined that its use was unlawful. Five men who had been detained for extended periods brought the matter to court and prevailed after the judge ruled that their detention was unlawful.
The Government then appealed the judge’s decision.
In November last year, the Government imposed seven SOEs to address the bloodletting across several police divisions, but after 14 days, Opposition senators declined to extend the security measure, citing its continued use as being unconstitutional.
But amid the Government awaiting the court’s decision on SOEs, Holness said the Enhanced Security Measures Act (ESMA) special legislation is to be taken to Parliament in short order.
According to Holness, special emergency powers are required as part of the nation’s crime-fighting strategies and plan.
He opined that the perpetrators and victims of crime are mostly young men between the ages of 16 and 24 years, and said the ESMA will place specific focus on this grouping.
The prime minister also indicated that the Government’s approach to crime-fighting is being pushed through Plan Secure Jamaica, a component of which requires the use of emergency powers.
“We cannot deny the history of the use of emergency powers. If any Government should fear the use of emergency powers, it should be this Government,” declared Holness, seemingly alluding to the 1976 SOE in which several prominent Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) members were detained by the security forces.
He added that, “We decided that we would use it as a strategy.
“We didn’t just immediately implement it. We went through a process of introducing the Zones of Special Operations (ZOSO) to give almost a training exercise to the security forces.
“We went through human rights training, we made sure the officers understood that these powers are not to be abused, and I am happy to say that this Government used emergency powers and no lives have been taken, guilty or innocent,” declared Holness.
He elaborated that the security forces have “used force without violence”, which has not always been the case in the past when such emergency powers were used.
“… Because we understand that emergency powers should not be used lightly, we took all the measures to ensure that when it was used, the citizens – guilty or innocent – were protected,” stated the prime minister.