Thursday 24 September, 2020

PNP: NIDS breaches 8 fundamental rights; Gov't says action premature

The position of the two main political parties in the court battle over the National Identification System (NIDS) Act took shape on Monday in the Constitutional Court in downtown Kingston.

The Opposition People’s National Party (PNP), which brought the case to court, claimed that eight of the 25 Rights and Freedoms guaranteed under the Jamaican Constitution have been breached by NIDS. That argument was presented to the three-member panel of judges by the PNP’s lead attorney, Queens Counsel Michael Hylton.

However, that position was countered by the Government’s attorney, Queens Counsel Marlene Malahoo Forte who argued that the matter brought by the Opposition was premature and therefore it was not properly before the court.

Earlier, Hylton had argued that, among other things, the identification system, in its current form, breaches the rights of individuals to privacy, to security, to a passport and equality before the law.

Hylton told the court that the requirement under NIDS that an individual must be in possession of a national identification card in order to access Government services is unconstitutional. He argued that that requirement could put people at risk if they are denied access to healthcare if they are not registered under NIDS or not in possession of the national ID.

The attorney also noted that, while the regulations for the NIDS are not yet finalised, when they are, they could compound the situation.

However, Malahoo Forte countered that the PNP’s action was premature as neither the NIDS law nor the accompanying regulations have been enacted and, as such, are not yet operational. She suggested that the regulations would likely address some of the concerns raised by the PNP.

The attorney general pointed to section 41(3) of the NIDS which provides an exemption for persons requiring healthcare to be treated even if they are without their national identification.

Chief Justice Bryan Sykes heads the three-member panel hearing the case. He is joined by Justices Lisa Palmer Hamilton and David Batts.

In June, the court had set aside three days – October 22 to 24 - to hear the matter which was brought by PNP General Secretary, Julian Robinson.

The PNP had argued that the matter was being pushed through with undue haste by the Government because of a $9 billion loan from the Inter-American Development Bank.

The NIDS bill was passed in November 2017 amidst much protestations and an eventual walkout by Opposition Senators who, among other things, argued that it was being rushed through the parliament. It was passed with more than 200 amendments.

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