Right Steps & Poui Trees


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350 Words or Less: Ladies, You Are Armed & Dangerous!

There is obviously something very threatening about women baring arms that seems to result in institutions of state formulating dress codes that prohibit women wearing sleeveless garments in their hallowed halls! This came up in the USA last week. It wasn’t a case of sleeveless in Seattle, but rather a case of sleeveless in Washington DC, in the Speaker’s Lobby in the US House of Representatives.

A journalist was told her sleeveless dress on a hot Washington day was not appropriate and her attempt to create “sleeves” with pages from her notebook didn’t work either. Eventually a California Congresswoman declared a Sleeveless Friday and she and a number of women turned up “inappropriately” dressed.tweet - US women's right to bare arms - 14-7-17Subsequently, Speaker Paul Ryan said that there would be a move to modernise the dress code, having initially reminded women of the need to be “appropriately” dressed.

We have our sleeveless prohibition here too, not only in Gordon House, but in a number of Ministries and other government agencies.  I wrote about it in a blog post last year, sparked by an instance in which a woman fashioned “sleeves” out of two scandal bags and was then allowed inside. You Have Got To Be Kidding! (Those Sleeveless Rules Again…)

Those bare arms are inimical to good order and the efficient conduct of government business and simply cannot be allowed. (We will not talk today about the dangers of bare heads, knees and toes.) Senator Longmore wore a sleeveless dress in the Senate recently, but kept it covered with a shawl throughout the debate. What chaos might otherwise have ensued in the Chamber!

And then there is this photo…. Maybe the prohibition hasn’t always existed, or maybe some people are exempt from the regular rules.

Jamaica Parliament - Princess Margaret 1962

First sitting of Parliament of independent Jamaica, August 1962

You think if I wore a sleeveless frock, but also wore long gloves and a tiara, they’d let me into the Gallery at Parliament?

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Making Haste: Joint Select Committee & Special Zones of Operations Act

This afternoon (June 13, 2017), the Joint Select Committee of Parliament considering The Law Reform (Zones of Special Operations) (Special Security and Community Development Measures) Act, 2017 had its first sitting. It was a short, preliminary meeting primarily intended to set out how the Committee will proceed.

Delroy Chuck 2Minister of Justice Delroy Chuck is chairing the Committee and reminded that the Bill had been tabled in the House by Prime Minister Holness during his Budget Debate presentation on March 21, 2017. He noted that this Bill is one of the measures intended to deal with the high level of violent crime in the country and made reference to the quadruple murder that had taken place in the parish of Hanover this morning. He indicated that the Prime Minister had asked that the Committee complete its deliberations by the end of June. This means that the Committee has about two weeks in which to conduct its process and report back to Parliament; by the first week in July, at the latest, Minister Chuck said.

The Committee has asked that advertisements be placed in the media this week, inviting individuals and organizations to make written submissions on the Bill to Parliament, with a possible deadline for submission by next week Tuesday.  They will also write to a number of specific organizations inviting them to make submissions; among those mentioned were the Jamaica Bar Association, the Advocates Association, the Public Defender, Jamaicans for Justice, the Norman Manley Law School and the Faculty of Law at the University of Technology. Individuals and organizations which make written submissions may be asked to make presentations in the Chamber, which will need to take place next week or the week after that.

Dates for three meetings of the Committee were set today, though these may change, as sometimes happens:

  • Wednesday, June 21 – 9 a.m.
  • Tuesday, June 27 – 10 a.m.
  • Wednesday, June 28 – 2 p.m.

It is hoped that all contributions can be concluded by the end of these three meetings, after which the Committee will do a clause-by-clause review of the Bill before finalising their report to Parliament.

Minster Chuck said that Attorney General Marlene Malahoo Forte will be attending the meetings of the Committee and the next meeting will begin with the Attorney General giving an outline of the Bill. He also said that the National Security Advisor and representatives of the Jamaica Constabulary Force and Jamaica Defence Force will be invited to attend the meetings.

I am not sure of the full membership of the Joint Select Committee, but present today were MPs Marisa Dalrymple-Philibert, Evon Redman and Floyd Green and Senator Pearnel Charles, Jr. Apologies were tendered for MP Peter Bunting and Senators Mark Golding and Ransford Braham. (Marlene Malahoo Forte was present in her capacity as Attorney General, from Minister Chuck’s comments.)

The Committee is attempting to complete its work in a very short period, with very limited notice to the public for submissions, which may jeopardize the “closer scrutiny of the Parliament in a joint select committee” contemplated by the Prime Minister when he tabled the Bill.

Previous blog post in which I raised questions & concerns about the Bill: Yes, You Do Get to Ask Questions About the Zones of Special Operations Act


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Increased Police Killings, Privacy & Other Concerns: INDECOM’S 1st Quarterly Report 2017

Jamaica’s Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) is a Commission of Parliament mandated “to undertake investigations concerning actions by members of the Security Forces and other agents of the State that result in death or injury to persons or the abuse of the rights of persons”. (INDECOM Act) The Commission began work in late 2010 and submits annual and quarterly reports to Parliament; these reports are available to the public and many are posted on INDECOM’s website. The reports give both data and analysis regarding the complaints and incidents investigated; they also include reviews of issues of concern to the Commission. In the past, these issues have included

  • deaths in custody
  • deaths of the mentally ill in confrontation with the police
  • command responsibility for the use of force
  • the School Resource Officers Programme
  • firing at vehicles.

1st Quarterly Report 2017

INDECOM 1st Quarterly Report 2017

The 1st Quarterly Report – 2017 was tabled in Parliament earlier this month and INDECOM held a press conference last Friday (May 26, 2017) to discuss the contents of the report.

Part One of the report gives information about new complaints received by INDECOM during the first three months of 2017 and lists the names of the security force-related fatalities, giving the location of each incident and which state agency was involved in the fatality.

Other information, such as Fatal Shootings by Parish, is given.

INDECOM 1st Q report 2017 p 11 chart

Part Two  of the report deals with the work of the Legal Department. It gives information on the Commission’s completed reports for the period and gives details of the recommendations of the Legal Department in 51 fatal shooting incidents. Most of these incidents took place between 2011 – 2015, but there is one case from 2008 and another from 2010. In the majority of these cases, there was the recommendation that no criminal charge be laid or disciplinary action be taken, and that the file be forwarded to the Special Coroner. In one case there was the recommendation that a policeman be charged with murder and in another case there was a confirmation of the DPP’s decision to charge a policeman with murder. INDECOM 1st Q 2017 - cases 1-2INDECOM 1st Q 2017 - case 15INDECOM 1st Q 2017 - case 22INDECOM 1st Q 2017 - case 33

The report also indicates the arrests and charges during the first quarter:INDECOM 1st Q 2017 - arrests and chanrges

Part Three of the report is on Lessons Learnt. It contains alarming data about the sharp increase in the number of people killed by the security forces in the first three months of 2017, when compared to the same period last year – a 75% increase.  This sets out in report form information that INDECOM has already communicated during the year.

The decline in security force fatalities, from above 200 killed per annum, for many years, fell to 115 in 2014. This was a 55% reduction. Fatalities dropped to 101 in 2015 and 111 in 2016.

However, the first quarter of 2017 (Jan – March) has seen a 75% increase in fatal shootings over the same period of 2016; 42 fatalities as against 24 in 2016. NB. 42 fatalities was not reached until mid-May, in 2016.

Fatal shootings in January, 2017, amounted to 19, a figure last observed in January 2014. Explanations provided by the JCF for this increase and subsequent months was reported as a rise in police confrontations with criminal gangs. (p. 31)

INDECOM press conference 26-5-17

Left to right: Denyelle Anderson (Public Relations Officer), Terrence Williams (Commissioner) , Hamish Campbell (Assistant Commissioner)

At the press conference, INDECOM Assistant Commissioner Hamish Campbell gave an update in the number of fatalities, stating that as of May 25, 2017, 64 people had been killed, compared to 44 by the same date in 2016. This is a 45% increase, which is still an alarming figure. He also reported that as of that date, the combined number of people shot and killed or shot and injured by the security forces was 87.

Mr Campbell also spoke about the fact that  46% of the people shot and killed or injured by the security forces in the first quarter of 2017 were not in possession of a firearm and 32% of them were completely unarmed.

INDECOM pictograph p. 31

Pictograph 1: Persons killed or injured without a firearm or in possession of non-firearm weapon (p. 31)

 

The section contains further information about these incidents and concludes as follows:

INDECOM 1st Q report 2017 p 33

Part Four of the report gives information about INDECOM’s meetings with the JCF, its outreach activities and press releases issued.

Additionally, the First Quarterly Report has an article on the issue of privacy and policing, dealing with surveillance, CCTV cameras and the need for regulations in Jamaica governing their use. There is also a review of the Major Organised Crime & Anti-Corruption (MOCA) Bill before Parliament and the concerns INDECOM has about aspects of the Bill. INDECOM Commissioner Terrence Williams spoke about these two issues at the press conference and I will comment on them in a separate blog post.

INDECOM’s Reports are a useful mechanism for the public to track the work of the Commission and some issues of great importance to the society. It is a shame that they are not the subject of more discussion and debate in the Parliament itself.

 


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Nearly A Year Later: Time for Western Kingston Commission of Enquiry Recommendations Update

Next week will be seven years since the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) and the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) joint operation in Western Kingston which resulted in the death of more than 70 people. Next month will be a year since the report of the Western Kingston Commission of Enquiry was tabled in Parliament and made public. It is certainly time for the country to get a full update on the status of the recommendations made in the report.

COE report cover blog pic

This is one of the problems with the Commission of Enquiry process. An Enquiry takes place and at the end of the process, strong and pertinent recommendations are sometimes made. At that point, another process starts or should start, but there is no formal requirement ensuring that next phase. There should be a system whereby the government is required to outline publicly which of the recommendations it has accepted, what steps it intends to take towards implementation and the timelines associated with that implementation. There should also be a formal process whereby the government is required to give periodic official public updates on the progress of that implementation, perhaps through scheduled reports to Parliament. This is not a new problem and contributes in part to the widely held belief that Commissions of Enquiry are a waste of time and money, as nothing ever comes of them.

Delroy Chuck MOJThe Minister of Justice, Delroy Chuck has attempted to move in that direction, having given some updates from time to time in Parliament and otherwise, updates about the setting up of a Cabinet Committee, the selection of the Chair of the Compensation Committee and the start of the Committee’s work, and the intention of the Government to apologise, for example. There have been statements by the JDF and the JCF indicating that they were working on some of the recommendations that applied to them. But this is an ad hoc process, and though things may well have progressed beyond what the public is aware of, there has been no formal, predictable structure for any updates.

In his Budget Debate presentation in Parliament on March 21, 2017, Prime Minister Andrew Holness committed to apologising to victims of the Tivoli operation when he said:

The wrongs of the past must be acknowledged and an apology offered to the victims of state-inflicted violence as recommended by constituted review bodies. On behalf of the Jamaican State and in my capacity as Prime Minister I will make the apology in Parliament to victims of the Tivoli Incursion and the Coral Gardens Incident.

PM Holness 2017 Budget DebateThe Prime Minister has made the apology for Coral Gardens, but hasn’t yet apologised for the abuses during the operation in Western Kingston and no date has been given for when he will. He made no other specific reference to the Commission’s recommendations during his presentation. Additionally, neither Minister Chuck nor Minister of National Security Robert Montague made specific reference to the Commission’s recommendations during their recent Sectoral Debate presentations or used the occasion to give a specific update on progress with implementation of the recommendations.  Also, I am not aware of any comprehensive public updates from the JDF and JCF after their initial responses to the Commission’s report.

I may well have missed some updates that have been given in Parliament or elsewhere, and I am sure that I could find additional information if I made Access to Information requests to various government ministries and bodies. I could also probably find additional information by searching the Hansard record for relevant dates. But the information ought to be more easily accessible and we should have some prescribed timelines for updates. I would like to suggest that sometime in June, twelve months after the Commission’s report was tabled in Parliament, would be a good time for a comprehensive update on what progress has been made on each of the Commission’s recommendations. The update should clearly state whether any progress has been made, the nature of that progress and what remains to be done, including relevant timelines. Instances in which no further action is planned should also be clearly stated. And as these updates are being contemplated and given, it is important to acknowledge again that this isn’t simply a paper exercise. It is about real people who were directly or indirectly impacted by the events, about a government giving account to its people, about preventing such occurrences happening again and about a process of justice and healing.

Recommendations of the Western Kingston Commission of Enquiry

Below I will set out briefly the recommendations made in Chapter 15 of the Report, for which progress updates need to be given.

UPDATE NEEDED REGARDING STATUS OF IMPLENTATION OF RECOMMENDATIONS INCLUDED IN REPORT OF WESTERN KINGSTON COMMISSION OF ENQUIRY CONCLUDED IN 2016
SECTION OF CHAPTER 15 RECOMMENDATIONS COMMENTS
INTRODUCTION 15.1 The Commission indicates that in other Chapters in the report they “have recommended that further investigations be carried out as a matter of justice and with a view to preventing a recurrence of similar events.” The bodies responsible for the further investigations, such as the JCF and INDECOM, should give an update on the status of such investigations.
PART 1-REDRESS

1. APOLOGY

 

15.7 “…we recommend that the GoJ apologize in Parliament to the people of West Kingston and Jamaica as a whole for the excesses of the security forces during the operation. The Government is, in the last resort, responsible for the conduct of its security forces.” The Prime Minister has indicated in Parliament that he will make this apology. He should indicate the date on which he will apologise and carry this out.
2. COUNSELLING FOR TRAUMATISED PERSONS

 

 

15.8 “…we are satisfied that there needs to be a programme of continuing counselling for some of the residents including children.”

 

15.9 “We therefore recommend that this matter be pursued by the appropriate Ministry.”

The Government should indicate which Ministry is responsible for implementing this recommendation, what programme is in place and what counselling has been and will be provided.
3. COMPENSATION FOR VICTIMS 15.12 “…we recommend the establishment of a Compensation Committee with two broad mandates…”

15.13 “We respectfully further recommend that the Compensation Committee be chaired by a retired judge or senior attorney-atlaw…and the Committee should be directed to complete its work within 9 months.”

The Chair of the Compensation Committee could give an indication of the progress of the Committee in its work and should indicate whether it will complete its work within the recommended 9-month period.
4. WAIVER OF LIMITATION PERIOD 15.14 The Commission refers to the legal restrictions regarding the timeframe in which claims against the State can be brought, 3 years in some instances and 6 years in others.

 

15.15 “We therefore recommend that the State waive its strict legal rights to all claims and agree to settle compensation on an ex gratia basis in respect of claims brought by aggrieved persons, personal representatives and/or near relations and/or dependents of deceased persons.”

The Government needs to confirm its position regarding the recommended waiver.

 

The Office of the Public Defender should give an update regarding its participation as referenced in 15.15

PART 2 -PREVENTION

 

15.16 The Commission gives a non-exhaustive list of measures that would prevent similar events in the future.
1. ADMINISTRATIVE REVIEWS 15.17 “Consistent with our findings with regard to the conduct of certain officers and other ranks of the JCF and JDF, we recommend that both forces undertake administrative reviews of the conduct of the named officers….We note that since May 2010, some of these officers have been promoted – in some cases to very senior ranks.”

 

15.18 “We recommend that the serving police officers against whom adverse findings have been made be relieved of any operational commands that they may hold and that they be prohibited from serving in any special operations units.”

 

15.19 The Commission indicated the allegations of involvement of members of the Mobile Reserve in extra-judicial killings.

 

15.20 “Where the accusations of extra-judicial killings on the part of the security forces were found by this Commission to be credible, and where persons were identified as being in dereliction of duty or were administratively or operationally incompetent, we recommend that these persons should never again be allowed to lead or otherwise participate in internal security operations.”

 

15.21 “We further recommend that the Mobile Reserve be subjected to special external oversight arrangements.”

The JCF and JDF should give an update on the status of the recommended administrative reviews of the named officers.

 

The JCF should give an update regarding the recommendation to relieve certain officers of operational command.

 

The Government should give an update regarding the recommended special external oversight arrangements for Mobile Reserve.

2. USE OF WEAPONS SYSTEMS 15.22 The Commission pointed to the need for “policies that guide the selection of weapons systems that may be used in internal security operations….We strongly recommend that a group of competent persons be tasked to draft such a policy.”

 

Future use of Mortars and other Indirect Fire Weapons

15.24 “We therefore recommend that, in future, the leadership of the JDF pay careful regard to contemporary best practice and learning in relation to the use of weapons of indirect fire. Consistent with international humanitarian law, the use of these weapons in built-up areas should be prohibited.”

 

 

The Government should indicate the status of drafting policies regarding selection of weapons systems for internal security operations.

 

The JDF should indicate the status of its review of future use of mortars and other indirect fire weapons.

3. IMPROVING LEGAL AND ADMINISTRATIVE ACCOUNTABILITY FOR USE OF FORCE 15.27 “…we recommend the following firearm related systems and procedures for favourable consideration by the GoJ:” These are set out in (a) – (e).

 

 

 

 

 

Use of Masks or Other Concealment Gear

15.28 “…we recommend that the use of masks and/or other concealment gear be limited to special cases when the identities of particular officers and units are best protected by these means. We also recommend that where masks and other concealment gear are used by entire units or groups, this be done only with the approval of the CDS and CoP for the JDF and JCF respectively….Moreover, we recommend that in all cases, there be reliable and verifiable means of internally identifying all individuals for whom approval is given to wear masks and or other concealment gear….

 

Body Worn Cameras

15.32 “This recommendation should also apply to soldiers who participate in special policing operations.”

15.33 The Commission recommends the use of body worn cameras by the police. “We therefore recommend the introduction of this type of technology.”

 

 

The Government should give an update regarding the status of the recommendations to do with firearm related systems and procedures; for several of these, the JCF’s update would be relevant.

 

 

The government should give an update regarding the policy regarding wearing of masks or other concealment gear; the JDF and JCF updates would be relevant here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Government should give an update regarding the implementation of the recommendation for the use of body worn cameras by the JCF and JDF. The JCF update would be relevant here.

 

Of particular note is the status of the protocols to govern use of body worn cameras. Body worn cameras are now being used by some members of the JCF. Earlier this year, INDECOM indicated that at that time it did not know what the protocols were; the public also does not know what the protocols are.

4. ACCOUNTABILITY IN JOINT OPERATIONS – A TRANSITION COMMAND PROTOCOL 15.34 “We recommend that the JDF and JCF fashion a transition command protocol that would be applied in instances of large-scale joint internal security operations.” The JDF and JCF should give an update regarding the status of this recommended protocol.
5. STRENGTHEN OVERSIGHT OF THE JCF 15.35 “We recommend that they [INDECOM, PCOA & PSC] be strengthened in terms of their capacities to fulfill their functions effectively.” The Government should give an update regarding measures taken to strengthen the capacities of INDECOM, the PCOA & the PSC.
6. OVERSIGHT OF THE JDF’S INVOLVEMENT IN POLICING OPERATIONS 15.36 “…to the extent that the JDF has become routinely involved in policing and is required to play a major role in internal security operations, it is our view that this aspect of their work, that is, their policing work, should be subjected to a greater measure of external civilian oversight.” The Government should give an update regarding this recommendation to increase external civilian oversight of the JDF’s policing work . The JDF’s update would be relevant in this regard.
7. TACKLING THE GARRISON PHENOMENON 15.41 The Commission noted the establishment of a police post in Tivoli Gardens after May 24, 2010 and recommended “that this approach be replicated in those garrison constituencies where none presently exists.”

 

 

15.42 “In addition, since “de-garrisonisation” ultimately requires consensus among political parties, we recommend

a. A bi-partisan approach leading to agreement towards the dismantling of garrison communities facilitated by an independent third party.

b. A road map for “de-garrisonisation” should be handed over to an independent body similarly structured in composition to the Electoral Commission, to develop the details of the process.

 

15.43 In relation to “de-garrisonisation”, the Commission made several recommendations to do with allocation of resources, set out in (i) – (iii).

 

The Government should give an update regarding the recommendation to establish police posts in garrison constituencies which did not have one. The JCF update would be relevant in this regard.

 

The Government should give updates about the implementation of the recommendations regarding the process and the allocation of resources relating to “de-garrisonisation”.

8. ACTION RECOMMENDATIONS OF ECLAC 15.45 The Commission endorsed the recommendations made by ECLAC in its report on the impact of the May 2010 events in Jamaica.

 

15.46 The Commission also “endorsed the main conclusion of the report that a medium to long-term programme of rehabilitation and revitalisation of the affected communities should be developed in order to integrate those communities into Jamaican society.”

 

15.47 “As part of a programme for inner city renewal and development we recommend that the Government should vigorously pursue the private sector’s assistance by inviting them to embrace the Urban Renewal (Tax Relief) Act.”

The Government should give an update regarding the recommendations to do with “[s]ustainable development… in addressing the problems in the low-income urban areas.”
9. REVIEW AND REFORM OF THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM 15.48 “We recommend that there should be a thorough-going holistic review of the existing criminal justice system followed thereafter by appropriate administrative and legislative action.” The Government should give an update regarding this recommended review.
10. AMENDMENT OF EXTRADITION ACT 15.50 “We recommend that section 8 of the Extradition Act be amended to make it mandatory that the Minister make a decision on authority to proceed within a finite time.”

 

15.51 The Commission made recommendations regarding not publicizing extradition requests and the Attorney General’s intention to sign the Authority to Proceed. Also recommended AG immediately informing the Commissioner of Police upon its execution.

The government should give an update regarding the recommended amendment to the Extradition Act.

 

 


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Births Fall in Jamaica in 2016…Because of #Zika Warning?

RJR birth decline in 2016 report - 4-5-17I heard the tail end of a report on RJR’s 5pm newscast yesterday (May 4, 2017), which said that there had been a significant decline in births in Jamaica last year. This seemed interesting in the context of the warning to delay pregnancy issued by the Ministry of Health (MOH) in January 2016, in advance of the country’s first confirmed case of the zika virus.

 

MOH warning to pregnant women 1-2016

During his Sectoral Debate presentation on May 3, 2017, Minister of Health Christopher Tufton tabled the first edition of Vitals, a new quarterly report published by his Ministry, which contains the following information:MOH reduced births 2016 chart

MOH reduced births 2016 text

(p.12, Vitals: Quarterly Report of the Ministry of Health – April 2017)

 

This 28% decline in the 4th Quarter of 2016 – nine to twelve months after the zika warning was issued – does on the face of it seem related to the warning. It certainly invites further study to understand how women and their partners responded to the warning and what part various factors, such as discussions and planning, increased use of contraceptives, access to abortion, for example, played in the subsequent decrease in births. It would also be interesting to compare this decrease in Jamaica with other countries which issued similar warnings. I also wonder whether there has been another recent year in which Jamaica has seen an annual decrease in births as large as 7.4%. (The RJR report mistakenly stated that the 28% decline was for the entire 2016, rather than only the 4th Quarter.)

Zika Update

The issue of Vitals also gives an update on the situation with zika in Jamaica up to the first week of April 2017:MOH zika update - Vitals 4-2017

It also reported on the cases of pregnant women with zika infections and the babies with suspected or probable cases of Congenital Syndrome Associated with Zika Virus (CSAZ).

There were 827 cases of notified Zika virus infection in pregnant women reported as at 10th April, 2017; 698 have been classified as suspected Zika based on the case definition. Of the 698 suspected cases, seventy-eight (78) have had positive PCR results confirming Zika virus infection. There were 170 notifications received regarding babies suspected as Congenital Syndrome Associated with Zika Virus Infection (CSAZ), 50 were classified as suspected cases of CSAZ (46 Microcephaly – 35 non-severe, 11 severe; 4 other congenital abnormalities). Three infants based on Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization were classified as probable cases of CSAZ.

(p. 17, Vitals: Quarterly Report of the Ministry of Health – April 2017)

There is obviously more to be said about the cases of babies suspected to have been affected by the zika virus, including why the numbers were fewer than initially feared, how the cases of microcephaly compare to previous years in number and severity and how the programmes to support the babies, their mothers and families are proceeding.MOH Vitals 4-2017

Vitals – A New Publication by the Ministry of Health

 

When he introduced the new publication during his Sectoral Debate presentation, Minister Tufton said that he hoped it would be a source of information and a tool for accountability.Tufton sectoral debate presentation 3-5-17 Vitals

I welcome this new quarterly report and think that it can indeed be a useful source of information about a variety of topics that are part of the remit of the Ministry of Health. I hope, however, that it will be easily and widely available. I found the link to it on Minister Tufton’s Twitter account. Up to the time of publishing this blog post, it wasn’t available on the MOH website or via the Jamaica Information Service website. I hope it soon will be.

 

 

 


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DNA? No Way! – More on The National Identification & Registration Act, 2017

A March 27, 2017 Jamaica Information Service (JIS) report titled National Identification System Will Be Game Changer – Chuck quotes Minister of Justice Delroy Chuck saying:JIS Min Chuck re natl id 27-3-17

The National Legislation and Registration Act, 2017 has been tabled in Parliament but hasn’t yet been passed. Minister Chuck’s reported statements to a police gathering in St Ann raise a number of concerns, one of which is his inclusion of DNA as one of the biometric identifiers to be included in the National Identification System.

When I wrote a blog post about the legislation last week, I had not seen the report of Minister Chuck’s speech, and I referred to the inclusion of DNA as an alarming future possibility:

So at some point in the future, a Prime Minister could decide to amend the Third Schedule to include DNA as one of the biometric identifiers the Government would have the power to collect from every Jamaican citizen for storage in the database.

It is disturbing that the Minister of Justice sees the inclusion as a welcome current reality, rather than a problematic future possibility! Particularly since the Bill tabled in Parliament in March makes no mention of DNA, except the following in the Sixth Schedule, which deals with Amendments and Repeal of other Acts to be done in association with the new legislation:NIDS Bill - DNA Evidence Act amendment

DNA is not included in the Third Schedule, which lists the wide-ranging information the State will be empowered to collect from every Jamaican citizen for storage in a central database, nor is it included in the definitions of biometric information or core biometric information in the Interpretation section of the Act:NIDS Bill - biometric infoNIDS Bill - core biometric info

However, it would be quite easy to add DNA to the list in the legislation as currently drafted. The regulations have not yet been drafted or made public, and when they are, DNA could be included. Regulations are subject to affirmative resolution – 57(2). Additionally, Section 58 empowers the Prime Minister to amend the Schedules of the Act, including Schedule Three, which would be an even easier method for including DNA.NIDS Bill Section 58

So, I ask the question: Does the Government intend to include DNA as one of the biometric identifiers to be collected for use in the National Identification System? If it does intend to collect DNA, then this should be made clear prior to passage of the Act. If it does not intend to collect DNA, then a specific prohibition needs to be included in the legislation, as has been done for some demographic information:NIDS Bill - demographic info

I have focussed on DNA in this post, given that it is the most extreme suggestion for collection and it has been mentioned by the Minister of Justice. I think, however, that ALL biographical, biometric and demographic information listed in the proposed legislation need to be reviewed and carefully considered before the Act is passed.

Other Questions About the Act Highlighted in JIS Report

The JIS report includes the following:JIS Chuck re Natl ID 27-3-17 banks

This points to the issues of

  • who will be entitled to request or demand the National Identity Number and/or National Identity Card from an individual,
  • under what circumstances such a request or demand can be made,
  • what right an individual will have to refuse such a request or demand and
  • what the consequences of such a refusal will be.

These need to be clearly understood before the Bill is passed into law.

For example, it is stated in the Bill that:NIDS Bill Section 41

This indicates that both public sector and private sector entities will have the power in law to request or demand that an individual provides their National Identification Number or National Identification Card and the individual will be required in law to produce it. (So you could go to the hardware store to buy a tin of paint and be required in law to produce your identity card if asked for it?)

How does this apply to requests or demands by the police? The JIS report states:JIS Chuck re Natl ID 27-3-17 police stop 2

The Bill is silent on any requirement that an individual must carry their National Identification Card at all times. Is it intended that this be included in regulations? Will the police be empowered in law to require someone to produce their National Identification Card? And if so, under what circumstances? As part of a “routine stop”? Only where there is reasonable suspicion of involvement in some criminal offence, committed or imminent? And what is contemplated as the consequence if someone doesn’t have their National Identification Card on them? Would that become grounds for detention? And if people are going to be required to carry their National Identufication Cards with them at all times, at what age would that requirement begin? And would it be all the BIOMETRIC data that would become available on swiping the card in the scenario above?

In another scenario presented by Minister Chuck, the police would have easy access to the fingerprints stored in the centralised database:JIS Chuck re Natl ID 27-3-17 access to fingerprints

This is a misleading portrayal of the process for the police to gain access to fingerprints or whatever core biometric information is eventually stored in the central database. It goes beyond “a quick check with the National Identification System headquarters”. In the Bill tabled the process is far more complex, as it should be given the sensitive nature of individuals’ biometric information. The process is set out in Section 45 of the Act and involves an application to the court and the criteria that a Judge must consider in granting the order for release of the information to the police.

The report ends with reassurances from the Minister:JIS Chuck re Natl ID 27-3-17 focus on crime applications

The security of any information stored in the centralised database is of critical importance. Is there a need for some minimum standards to be included in the legislation?

If you read through the National Legislation and Registration Act, 2017 in its current draft, you would not see the strong emphasis on its use as a crime fighting tool. It is presented primarily as a means for identification in accessing goods and services. This is one of the reasons for scrutiny at the level of a Joint Select Committee and clarification for the public. What are the implications (intended or unintended) of the provisions of the proposed legislation? What are the risks? What is the potential for erosion of rights and abuse by the State?

I am fully aware of the potential for inaccuracies and incompleteness in reports of events and speeches, but if the JIS report is an accurate one, then I am disappointed in Minister Chuck, because he is one of the people I would look to for strong scrutiny of the Act for potential breaches of rights and to lead discussion in that regard.

With or without this JIS report of the Minister’s speech, these are issues for consideration prior to passage of the Act. There are others that I will also raise in future posts.

 


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Does the National Identification & Registration Act Go Too Far?

This is the second weekend in a row that I have spent some time reading through a Bill recently tabled in the Parliament. This time is was the National Identification and Registration Act, 2017, tabled by Prime Minister Holness during his Budget Debate contribution in March. NIDS Bill title

In tabling the Bill, PM Holness said:

This Bill is consistent with a rights-based approach to ensuring that every citizen of Jamaica can be identified and known to the state, so that their rights and entitlements can be preserved and planned for in advance. This will create a tremendous public good by reducing transaction time and cost.

Mr. Speaker, the Registrar General Department will be transformed into the National Identification and Registration Authority and will be responsible for implementing the project. Funding for the project is being negotiated through the IDB and a detailed work plan is already prepared. We expect to be piloting the project in September next year.

From Contribution to the 2017/18 Budget Debate by PM Andrew Holness

Having read through the Bill, I certainly think that it needs to be considered by a Joint Select Committee to benefit from “the closer scrutiny of the Parliament”, as PM Holness said in relation to the Law Reform (Zones of Special Operations) (Special Security and Community Development Measures) Act.

The Act will establish the National and Civil Identification Database and will empower the Government to collect a variety of biographic and biometric information about each citizen of Jamaica and other individuals who are ordinarily resident in Jamaica. The range of information is set out in the Third Schedule of the Act:

NIDS Bill data aNIDS Bill data bNIDS Bill data cNIDS Bill data d

This isn’t even the final list, as the definitions of both “biographic information” and “biometric information” in the Interpretation section of the Act allow for additional data to be included in the Regulations, by referring respectively to “and such other information as may be specified in the regulations” & “or such other biological attribute of the individual as may be specified in the regulations”. The Regulations referred to haven’t yet been drafted or made public, so there is no way of knowing at this point what they might include in the first instance or in the future. (In fact, in more than a dozen places in the Bill, further details are relegated to the Regulations, in some instances leaving me feeling that the country is being asked to sign a contract now and find out the details later. With the devil so often lying in the details, perhaps the Regulations need to be brought to Parliament alongside the Bill or the details need to be included in the Bill itself.)

It is also important to note that Section 58 of the Act gives the power to the designated Minister (who is the Prime Minister in this Act) to amend Schedules: NIDS Bill Section 58

So at some point in the future, a Prime Minister could decide to amend the Third Schedule to include DNA as one of the biometric identifiers the Government would have the power to collect from every Jamaican citizen for storage in the database.

But without going to future possibilities, a look at the existing list includes items that need to be deleted. For example, A 9. The religion of the individual. Why would it be necessary for the Jamaican Government to inquire into, collect, record and store in a permanent database the religion of every citizen of Jamaica? Other items among the biographical information need to be similarly questioned.

The biometric information is of particular concern, as one can hardly get more intrusive of a person’s privacy than to collect such data. Each of those items from A 22 – 33 needs to be carefully reconsidered. The Government will seek to reassure that the data will be secured and protected and only accessed under certain circumstances. I think it needs to be questioned whether by the simple fact of your being born in Jamaica, an act in which you have no choice whatsoever, the Government should have the power in law to collect all this biometric information from you.

There are other aspects of the Bill that need to be carefully considered and I plan to do further posts on this. At the core of the legislation, however, is the information the Government intends to collect about each citizen and so this is a good place to begin.