States of emergency coming back, suggests Chang | Loop Jamaica

The content originally appeared on: Jamaica News

The Government has signaled that it will be reinstating states of emergency (SOEs) at the earliest opportunity with the opening of debate to amend the Emergency Measures Act in the House of Representatives on Wednesday.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of National Security, Dr Horace Chang, in his contribution to the debate, said Jamaica is in a “security emergency”.

“At what point do we as a society concede that the level of violent crimes has attained public emergency status?” asked Chang as he began his presentation.

He highlighted that the regional average for murders is 17.2 per 100,000 and the world average 6.1 per 100, 000.

“At the end of 2017, the murder rate in the parish of St James was 186.5 per 100,000,” the security minister indicated.

He highlighted further that in 2020, murders within the Area Four police network were as follows: Kingston Eastern 77 per 100,000; Kingston Central 197.3 per 100,000; Kingston Western 172.8 per 100,000; St Andrew South 77 per 100,000; and St Andrew Central 78.5 per 100, 000.

“If these murder rates do not signal a security emergency that warrants an emergency security response then at what point do we accept that we are in an emergency?” asked Chang.

He said the Government has for some time been engaging in these discussions, and has been asked to justify using emergency security response in what can only be described as a “violent crime disaster”.

Chang pointed to the National Consensus on Crime document that was signed off on by the Government, Opposition and other relevant stakeholders, including civil society, academia and the private sector, last year. The security minister reminded that it was considered and agreed that there are circumstances in which the use of emergency security response would be appropriate and necessary.

According to the document, the parties agreed that: “We will support the use of the military, as permitted by law, in geographic areas where the homicide rate is above 32 per 100,000 (i.e. two times the regional average), where the JCF determines it is incapable of controlling this violence with their current resources and capability, and the Commissioner of Police along with the Chief of Staff of the Jamaica Defence Force agreeing that it is necessary.”

In taking a swipe at the Opposition, Chang said “32 per 100,000, which exceeds the regional average, was the benchmark agreed by all stakeholders, and yet, with the murder rates as they are now, the Opposition wishes to debate whether or not we are in fact experiencing a security emergency.”

The SOEs that were in place in several parishes were ended on August 17 last year, one day before Nomination Day activities for the September 3 General Elections. The Government was unable to reinstatement the emergency measure after it returned to office. It had been using the emergency security measures as its main crime-fighting tool since 2018, but that ceased after a ruling by the Supreme Court in September 2020. The ruling found that the protracted detention of five men under the SOE was unlawful.

The five men – Nicholas Heath, Courtney Hall, Gavin Nobel, Courtney Thompson and Everton Douglas – had challenged the legality of their detention in July2020.

The men were held in custody for more than one year in some instances without being charged for any offence, and their attorneys argued that this was unlawful and represented a breach of their constitutional rights.

Court documents revealed that Heath was held in custody for 361 days, Hall for 395 days, Noble for 431 days, Thompson for 365, and Douglas for 177 days.

In a 64-page judgment, Justice Bertram Morrison stated that the detention of the men “is quite remarkable, having regard to the fact that none of them have been charged for any offence in law.”

Morrison stated, among other things, that the detention orders under the SOEs issued by the national security minister were also unlawful. The reason was because the use of the orders to detain the men for criminal cases without proper review breached the doctrine of separation of powers.

On Wednesday Chang brushed aside criticism about persons being held indefinitely.

Delroy Chuck (file photo)

“I have heard the concerns regarding mass detention of citizens, but that has not been the case. Upon ending the states of public emergency in August 2020, the police had 240 persons in custody. About 50 per cent of them were charged and the others released. Many of those released have been contributing to the inter-gang violence (since then),” said Chang

“The fact is that the most volatile communities require an emergency security response to clear the space ahead of bringing in the social and infrastructural redevelopment activities,” the minister argued.

The amendment Bill was piloted by Justice Minister Delroy Chuck, who outlined that Clause 2 of the principal Act was being amended to include a definition for a ‘period of public disaster’, which would reflect a similar definition in the section of the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms of the Constitution.

Chuck outlined that the penalty provisions were also being amended to include a new provision that will give the relevant minister the power to change the penalties by order, subject to affirmative action.

The justice minister also indicated that the amendments should have been made in 2013 when the Charter was enacted, but could not say why this was not done.

“I cannot explain the omission, however, since the courts have recently pointed it out, we have taken these steps to comply,” he said.

As far as Chang is concerned, “SOEs save lives”.

“This Government has been utilising a combination of different security measures to respond to the crime situation in Jamaica. In some instances, we will require and utilise emergency security measures in order to cauterise the killings and save lives. Similarly, we continue to prioritise social investment for sustainable crime reduction and social transformation,” said Chang.