Sat | Dec 14, 2019

No police state - Lawmakers urge caution in review of anti-gang legislation

Published:Thursday | June 27, 2019 | 12:36 AMLivern Barrett/Senior Staff Reporter
Police patrol the tough community of Bedward Gardens, St Andrew, in this 2011 Gleaner file photo.
Malahoo Forte
K.D. Knight
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A proposal that Jamaican immigration authorities should be compelled to alert the police when convicted gangsters are about to leave the island has not found favour with lawmakers who are reviewing the so-called anti-gang legislation.

Similarly, members of a joint select committee of Parliament have shot down another suggestion to allow the police to obtain a court order declaring an entity a criminal organisation and giving investigators the go-ahead to monitor its activities.

Not only are the proposals fraught with danger, according to Attorney General Marlene Malahoo Forte and opposition Senator K.D. Knight, but similar provisions are already included in existing legislation.

“It’s as if the agents of the State don’t know what tools are available to them, and that bothers me,” Malahoo Forte complained yesterday during a meeting of the committee held at Gordon House.

She said that while it is understandable that law enforcers want to be able to monitor gang members, it cannot be done in an arbitrary fashion.

“That is why, fundamentally, there must be reasonable cause for suspicion, and it is on that basis that you proceed to do any and many things,” said Malahoo Forte.

Knight went further, warning his colleagues not to “get into this mood where you legislate everything”.

“You begin to whittle away at rights and then you turn this country into a police state. Stop it! I see that that is where we are going. It is wrong,” he admonished.

He warned that placing an individual on a watch list because of a conviction could lend itself to abuse.

“We know what happens, for example, sometimes when stop orders are placed. We know,” said Knight, a former national security minister.

“And when you begin to put people on watch lists, for example, there are countries that will revoke travel privileges ... even though the person is not suspected of being involved in any criminal activity,” the veteran criminal defence attorney added.

National Security Minister Dr Horace Chang, who chairs the committee, explained that the plan was not to restrict people’s movements, but to establish a regime through which the Passport, Immigration & Citizenship Agency would routinely alert the police to the movements of convicted gangsters.

Knight also ridiculed the recommendation for gangs to be declared criminal organisations.

“For example, you go to the bank and you say you want to monitor that organisation. Do these groupings operate as an organisation and would have an account at the bank in the name of this organisation? If they don’t – and I don’t think they do – what organisation would you be monitoring?” he questioned.

Alecia Whyte, director of the Legal Affairs Division of the Jamaica Constabulary Force, sought to explain that the court order would identify individuals who are members of the organisation. She said that as a result of the order, financial institutions would be obligated to report whether they hold properties for those individuals.

But Knight was still not happy with the explanation.

“They are monitoring individuals, so what is this declaration about organisations?” he asked. “Chairman, it is my considered view that we should not consider this any further.”

The Criminal Justice (Suppression of Criminal Organisations) Act was passed by the Jamaican legislature in 2014.

But according to the national security ministry, only four convictions have been secured in the five years it has been on the books. The review is to strengthen the legislation.

livern.barrett@gleanerjm.com