Only two convictions after 4 years of anti-gang law
Issues of potential breaches of the constitution, inadequacies and the low conviction rate under the four-year-old anti-gang legislation highlighted Tuesday’s sitting of the joint select committee of parliament examining the law.
The review of the legislation is being pushed by the police and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), to give it more teeth in the pursuit of gang members and their criminal enterprises. However, concerns were raised about whether some of the changes being proposed by the Ministry of National Security would breach constitutional rights.
The concerns were raised after Chief Technical Director in the Ministry, Rohan Richards, made the case for the Commissioner of Police to be empowered to request a declaration from a judge that would allow the police to formally identify an organisation as one engaging in criminal activities.
Additionally, the security ministry wants the police to be empowered with “sanction control orders” that would restrict the movement of persons suspected of being involved in gang activity by, among other things, the use of tracking devices.
Responding, Member of Parliament for South St Andrew, Mark Golding cautioned that such provisions could be in breach of the constitution. The attorney-at-law and former Justice Minister said: “In so far as you’re making an order that will impinge on the normal liberties that a citizen has, then that invokes constitutional issues and the question of how you frame that so as to ensure that you’re not doing something which is a violation or contravention of the Charter (of Rights) is a live issue...
“So I’m asking what is being proposed in relation to the procedure that leads up to the making of a control order that would adequately protect the right of a citizen from being, perhaps, unfairly identified as such, or in error or in any other such discrepancy arising,” Golding added.
MP for East Central St Catherine, Alando Terrelonge, who is also an attorney, also cautioned about giving the police such powers. He supports giving the police the power to name a gang or any other criminal organisation.
“I see that. But when you get into the naming of individuals within that organisational structure, I have a difficulty with that because that is... more subjective…and then there are other persons who might have ulterior motives in making certain declarations against individuals for a myriad of reasons…,” said Terrelonge.
For his part, the National Security Minister, Dr Horace Chang, said the likely solution was the creation of a watch list which some countries use to monitor criminal suspects. However, he noted that Jamaica does not currently have the legal framework to establish such a list.
Meanwhile, the Chief Technical Director in the security ministry revealed that only two convictions have been realised after four years of the anti-gang legislation being on the law books. Richards disclosed that during that time, some 448 persons were arrested and charged for various breaches of the legislation. The two who were convicted entered guilty pleas.
The technical director told the committee that police statistics show that, at the end of 2017, there were 274 active criminal gangs operating across the island with more than 9,000 members. According to Richards, 77 of these are considered major organised criminal enterprises. He also told the committee that, of the 1,616 murders committed in Jamaica in 2017, some 985 or 61 per cent were gang related.
For her part, the Director of Public Prosecutions, Paula Llewellyn, who also appeared on the committee, said the law should be amended to allow the police to obtain search warrants in pursuit of gang members. She told the committee that the absence of such a provision from the existing legislation must have been an oversight by the legislature. Currently, the police are forced to use the provisions of the Dangerous Drugs Act and the Firearms Act to obtain search warrants as they go after gang members.
“We believe that the investigative tools to the police will be enhanced by expressly making a provision (in the anti-gang law) allowing investigators to have a search warrant to enter, search premises and to seize paraphernalia or documents in those premises,” Llewellyn said.