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House Starts Debating Anti-Crime Bills

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The House of Representatives has begun debating the report from the Joint Select Committee of Parliament on the six anti-crime Bills, for which the Government has been seeking approval since 2008.

The Bills are: an Act to amend the Bail Act; an Act to further amend the Firearms Act; an Act to amend the Offences Against the Person Act; an Act to amend the Parole Act; an Act to make interim provision in relation to the grant of bail in specified circumstances; and an Act to make interim provision extending the powers of arrest and detention under Sections 50B and 50F of the Constabulary Force Act.

They were considered by a joint select committee in 2008, but there was no consensus between the Government and the Opposition on some of the provisions in two Bills which had to be redrafted.

Leading off the debate in Parliament on Wednesday (June 2), Prime Minister Bruce Golding conceded that the measures could face opposition, but called for the support of the Members of Parliament in passing, what he described as, a “necessary response to a problem that has to be dealt with”.

One of the two contentious Bills, the Bail Act, proposes what Mr. Golding described as a “significant” change in the approach to bail. The Act, if passed, will be in place for one year and will allow the state to imprison a person charged with violent or certain drug-related offences for up to 60 days without bail.

The Prime Minister said, however, that the new Bill would require that the detained person must be taken before a judge, not later than seven days after he is held, where the judge can review the matter to determine whether he should be released, and thereafter if he is not released, he must be taken back before the court in intervals of 14 days.

The other Bill seeks to extend the powers of arrest and detention under sections 50B and 50F of the Constabulary Force Act, so that a person can be detained for up to 72 hours, instead of 24 hours, without being charged or taken before a magistrate.

It also provides for the arrest and detention of a person outside of the locality of a curfew or cordon, if a divisional commander or a member of the Jamaica Constabulary Force at the rank of Assistant Commissioner is satisfied that there is reasonable ground for suspecting that the person is about to commit, or has committed a crime within the area of the curfew or cordon.

Member of Parliament for St. Andrew East Central, Dr. Peter Phillips, expressed broad support for the intentions of the Bills, but said there was need to achieve as much consensus on the issues as possible from all facets of society.

He suggested that a civilian oversight body should be established to ensure there are no abuses under some of the amendments, especially those which extend the powers of the police to detain persons for longer periods.

The debate on the Bills is expected to continue next week.

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