Opposition wants High Court to rule on constitutionality of states of emergency

March 15, 2023
Photo by Kenyon Hemans

KINGSTON, Jamaica, Mar 15, CMC – The main opposition People’s National Party (PNP) is asking the High Court to “rule definitively” on whether the the Jamaica government’s repeated use of states of emergency (SOEs) as a crime fighting tool is constitutional.

Opposition Leader, Mark Golding, told Parliament on Tuesday night of the “increasing militarisation of law enforcement,” adding “it is not a strategy that we endorse.

“It is dangerous, and it has not proved to be effective,” he ssaid, noting “the ineffectiveness of the government’s approach (to crime fighting) is underscored by the fact that in 2022, there were approximately 52.9 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants in our nation, and Jamaica maintained the position of the highest homicide rate in Latin America and the Caribbean that year”.

Government Tuesday said that a state of public emergency (SOE) had been declared for the parishes of Clarendon and St James as the two parishes remain of particular concern for outbreaks of gang violence..

“Organised gangs remain a threat in these parishes. Although there have been some successes in reducing murders through strategic and tactical security operations, more needs to be done. As we acknowledge this, the Government will continue to use all tools at our disposal to protect the lives of our citizens of Jamaica and dismantle the threat to law and order,” according to a statement issued by the Office of the Prime Minister.

It said that the SOEs, which went into effect from midnight, will last for an initial period of 14 days.

According to the proclamation, “action has been taken or is immediately threatened by persons or bodies of persons of such a nature and on so extensive a scale as to be likely to endanger the public safety of the communities in the areas specified.”

The statement said that the declaration of SOEs will allow the security forces to carry out targeted operations to disrupt and dismantle criminal gangs and their networks and prevent the occurrence of serious crimes.

While the Government is allowed to declare a SOE for an initial two weeks, it needs a two-thirds vote in both Houses of the Parliament to have the measure extended beyond the initial 14 days.

As a result, despite its majority in the House of Representatives, it does not command the required special majority in the Senate and would need at least the support of one of the opposition legislators.

The PNP has maintained that the SOEs are unconstitutional. But the government has insisted that the SOEs are not unconstitutional and has repeatedly stated that no court has so ruled.

During his budget response on Tuesday night, Golding said that he has noticed that over the past two years, the size of the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) has been increasing significantly  and on “the trajectory it was on, it would exceed that of the police force within a few years. “Similarly, the capital budget of the military has systematically and massively outstripped that of the police force. Military expenditure, spending on the JDF, more than doubled to J$36 billion (One Jamaica dollar=US$0.008 cents) over the seven years that the JLP has been in power.

“This represents an increase in real terms of over 40 per cent since 2017 – double the rate at which spending on the police force increased,” Golding said, adding that the increased spending on the military is attached to the continued use of SOEs as routine crime fighting tools.

“Under States of Emergency, citizens can be detained without charge for indefinite periods. This is a threat to our democracy,” he told Parliament.

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