Right Steps & Poui Trees

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Parliamentarians, A Joint Select Committee & INDECOM

In Parliament last week Tuesday (January 30, 2018), during the discussion about extending the period of Public Emergency in St James, Prime Minister Andrew Holness and Opposition Leader Peter Phillips both commented on the functioning of the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM).  Their comments fit into an ongoing narrative that paints INDECOM as not being “balanced” in its approach and acting in a way that demoralizes the members of the security forces it is mandated to investigate.MP Phillips - PBCJ - Parliament 30-1-18

Dr Phillips: I’d like to end by also offering our commendations to the security forces for, not only in this area in St James but generally, the rank and file for the most part and the officers for the most part have conducted themselves with commendable efficiency in very difficult circumstances and they are to be commended. And I think even as they go, not only there but in the other areas of the country, while we urge them to obey the law, I want to urge those who investigate them, including INDECOM, to be mindful of the circumstances in which they operate. If I can be blunt, if INDECOM has a problem with the members of the security forces, I don’t think they should disarm them in public in full view of the citizens. I think that that unnecessarily demoralizes the men and women who are urged to obey the law, but who operate in what is a very dangerous situation on the street. There is literally a war that has been declared on society and in that circumstances you cannot weaken those who serve in the face of those who attack them.

PM Holness - PBCJ - Parliament 30-1-18

In responding to Dr Phillips, PM Holness said:

You mentioned INDECOM. We take the view that there really needs to be balance in how INDECOM operates. I’ve decided not to go any further with my comments on INDECOM. I think this House, which created the institution, which still retains the power, at some point…I suspect it would have to be sooner than later…we will have to take some decisions…to ensure that that very important institution operates with balance.

(A video recording of the session in Parliament is available here. Dr Phillips’ comment begins at 1:11:59 & PM Holness’ comment begins at 1:37:00.)

The following day, INDECOM issued two press releases in response to the comments in Parliament. In the first, the Commission refuted Dr Phillips’ assertion:INDECOM press release Jan 31 2018 aINDECOM press release Jan 31 2018 b

In the second, INDECOM shared Commissioner Williams’ letter to Justice Minister Delroy Chuck, requesting an opportunity to be informed of the perceived problems and to respond:

INDECOM press release and letter 31-2-18 a

INDECOM letter to Minister of Justice 31-1-18

Dear Minister Chuck,

Re: Remarks in Parliament on INDECOM

Reference is made to the captioned.

On the 30th instant, remarks were made in Parliament that INDECOM needed “balance” in its work and that INDECOM’s investigators were disarming police officers in public spaces.

As a Commission of Parliament, INDECOM is obligated to make reports to Parliament on matters of concern. We do not know what claims advised the assertion that our work lacks balance and would appreciate an opportunity to be so advised and to respond. As misinformation must not be permitted to direct policy.

The remark about disarming of police officers ia an example of misinformation. This was raised by the Police Federation during the Joint Select Committee’s Review of the INDECOM Act. We were able to debunk this claim. The position remains that police officers are disarmed by their colleagues and this is done at the police station. A 2014 JCF Force Order published the agreed protocol between the JCF in this regard.

Given your statutory remit to serve as the liason between INDECOM and Parliament, INDECOM seeks your kind intervention in this matter to permit us to be aware of assertions being made and to answer them.

Yours sincerely,


Terrence F Williams



This is not the first occasion on which PM Holness has spoken about INDECOM needing to be more “balanced” in its approach or for the need to review or make changes to the INDECOM Act. It is unfortunate and unhelpful, however, that the Prime Minister hasn’t been more specific in making clear exactly what he means by “balance/balanced” or what aspects of the Act he thinks need further review or need to be changed. His repeated references without specificity encourage speculation, limit INDECOM’s ability to respond and may have the effect of eroding confidence in the workings of the Commission.

Review of the INDECOM Act

Section 37 of the INDECOM Act, which came into effect in 2010, requires periodic reviews of the Act, the first to take place no later than three years after the Act came into effect.

INDECOM Act Section 37

In 2013, a Joint Select Committee (JSC) was established to review the Act; it began its examination on June 27, 2013, held 23 meetings, concluded its report in October 2015 and the report was tabled in Parliament in November 2015. JSC INDECOM Act Review report

A copy of the report is available here: Joint Select Committee Report on INDECOM Act. What has happened to the report since it was submitted to Parliament? Which of the JSC’s recommendations have been accepted or rejected? What amendments to the Act are to be tabled in Parliament? More than two years after the report was submitted, it would be reasonable for the public to have some official word via Parliament.

A September 29, 2016 Jamaica Information Service (JIS) release titled “Cabinet Looking at Report on INDECOM” included the following reference to a statement made by National Security Minister Robert Montague:JIS 29-9-16 Montague re INDECOM report - an excerpt

Last year there was a report in the media that Minister of Justice Delroy Chuck had indicated there had been some movement regarding Cabinet’s consideration of the JSC recommendations, but there has still not been any action in Parliament regarding the report and its recommendations.

And this is part of what makes the comments in Parliament last week by the Leader of the Opposition and the Prime Minister so remiss.  Parliament passed a law establishing INDECOM, a Commission of Parliament (2010). That law passed by Parliament required a review of the law not more than three years after passage. Parliament established a Joint Select Committee of both House to conduct that review (2013). That Committee of Parliament held meetings over two years and produced a report containing its recommendations. That report was tabled in Parliament (2015). More than two years later, there has been no further action in Parliament regarding that report and its recommendations (2018). Yet the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition found it appropriate to make the comments they did in Parliament.

The Prime Minister did say “I think this House, which created the institution, which still retains the power, at some point…I suspect it would have to be sooner than later…we will have to take some decisions….” Yes, I would suggest that Parliament – that Parliamentarians – take some action, make some decisions. The current situation really makes a mockery of Parliament’s own processes.







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


Yes, You Do Get to Ask Questions About the Zones of Special Operations Act

You are asked as a citizen to trust the Government and that trust is an important part of how a democracy works. But in a democracy, that trust is never expected to be blind or unquestioning; it is expected to be qualified and earned on an ongoing basis. Good governance is participatory, with opportunities for sharing of information and genuine consultation and feedback on decisions that will affect the lives of citizens.

Budget debate 21-3-17 Holness cLast week, during his contribution to the Budget Debate, Prime Minister Andrew Holness tabled a Bill aimed at legal provisions for dealing with the problem of crime and security in Jamaica.Law Reform Special Zones bill

The short title for the proposed legislation is The Law Reforms (Zones of Special Operations) (Special Security and Community Development Measures) Act, 2017 and the Bill can be found on Parliament’s website. (Click here.)  PM Holness said the following about the Bill:

The referral to a Joint Select Committee will provide an opportunity for members of the public to hear more about the details of the Bill and to make written submissions to the Committee.

People are sometimes given the impression or make the assumption themselves that unless you are a legislator, a lawyer, an expert in the particular field, you are not entitled to express an opinion on an existing or proposed piece of legislation. We all benefit from the knowledge, expertise and opinions of legislators, lawyers and experts, but that does not mean that as a citizen you do not have the right to express concerns or ask questions about a piece of legislation that is likely to affect you, your family and community directly or indirectly. It is part of what citizens in a democracy are entitled (and expected) to do, part of how we participate other than by voting.

Over the weekend, I read through the Zones of Special Operations Bill, making notes of my initial thoughts, areas of concern or for clarification and questions. I’ve shared my notes below, as I continue to look at and follow the process regarding the Bill. The current provision is for the first review of the Act to take place within three years; often reviews are delayed and even when they take place and are reported on, recommendations for amendments can take years to be debated in Parliament. So it is necessary that the Bill be subject to closer scrutiny before passage.


Having read the Bill, I have some initial thoughts and comments on areas for question and clarification and possible concerns that arise.

One thing that would be very useful in evaluating the impact of the Bill would be a matrix setting out what new powers have been allocated and to whom and where existing powers have been repeated in this Bill.

Some areas to look at particularly:

  • increased powers to JDF
  • increased powers to JCF
  • impact of the Bill on children
  • impact on freedom of association
  • impact on detention and bail
  • provisions for use of body-worn cameras
  • increased powers to Prime Minister
  • potential for powers within Zones to influence attitudes & actions of security forces outside of Zones
  • provisions for oversight & accountability of operations/actions within Zones (eg functioning of INDECOM within Zones)
  • any others?

In assessing the Bill, one would need to look at the impact of the proposed Act on the fundamental rights and freedoms of citizens; the potential effectiveness of provisions in the Act; whether powers/provisions detailed within the Act already exist in law.

Comments on specific sections of the Bill

Memorandum of Objects and Reasons for the Act

In the Memorandum of Objects and Reasons for the Act, it is specifically stated that:

“This Act should not have the negative impact on Jamaica, which could likely occur if a declaration of a state of public emergency was made.”

This raises the question of whether the Act seeks to establish the conditions of a state of public emergency in specified geographical locations without the existing process/protection/Parliamentary oversight and the constitutional implications of this.

Additionally, the following is stated in the Memorandum of Objects and Reasons for the Act, which raises the need for clarity about any additional powers the Bill seeks to give members of the JCF and JDF and, as indicated here, the impact of these on the fundamental rights and freedoms of citizens. Is the balance an acceptable one? Consideration should be given to whether the powers granted here may influence (unintentionally?) the role/behavior of the police and military outside of any declared special zone or generally over the long term. Note the experience of the long-term impact on policing of the Suppression of Crime Act passed in the 1970s.Special Zones 1

Objects of Act 3(a) – (g)

This section sets out the specific objects of the Act regarding the Zones of special operations. It would be useful to clarify which of the powers listed here already exist in law and which are new. If they already exist in law, what need for the Act?

Declaration of Zone 4 (1) – (5)

Note the increased powers being given to the Prime Minister (in Council) and to the Joint Command (as designated in 8(a)).

Note (4) The entire Island shall not be declared as a Zone. Is there any limitation as to the number of Zones or % of the Island that can be designated as a Zone at any one time?

Extension of period 5(1) – (3)

With the initial period of up to 60 days allowed in 4(1) and the two extensions of up to 60 days each allowed in 5(1) & (2), an area can be designated as a Zone of special operation for up to 180 days (6 months) before being brought to Parliament for a vote.

When brought to Parliament, 5(3) Any subsequent extension shall be subject to affirmative resolution of the House of Representatives.

Would there be a limit to the length of time of such further extensions? Would it be the 60 days as with the prior extensions? Would there be a limit to the number of times such extensions could be declared? Would there be any mechanism other than the courts for residents within a declared zone to challenge such extensions?

Statement to Parliament (6)

Within fourteen days of each extension the Minister shall make a statement to Parliament.

Does this requirement exist for the initial declaration also, or only for extensions?

This is aimed at some Parliamentary accountability, and perhaps oversight. How effective could/would it be?

Designation of Joint Command 8(1) – (5)

8(1) What exactly does “to be jointly in charge of operations within the Zone” mean?

8(2) What level of additional training is envisaged in “are additionally trained in human rights, the use of force and community development initiatives”?

8(3) Will the details of the Zones’ “written accountability and reporting system as specified by the National Security Council” be available for review by anyone else to assess the adequacy of the system? INDECOM? The public?

8(5) Any person who fails to comply with subsection (4) is liable to disciplinary action.

Note the reference to disciplinary action here and elsewhere in Bill. Clarity on who will be responsible for administering such disciplinary action. JCF & JDF each to their own members?

Suspension of operation or change of Joint Command: 10

Note power of PM (in Council).

Identification of members of Joint Force: 11

Special Zones 2

This will not be standard? Does “may be ascertained” include being ascertained by the public?

Concern here about ability of public to identify police and soldiers on operations, given the context of long-standing and ongoing concerns about wearing of masks/face-coverings and non-display/covering of numbers on uniforms. Note, for example, concerns and comments in Report of Tivoli Commission of Enquiry.

Concern for the safety of members of JCF & JDF is usually raised as the reason for concealing identity of some members on some operations. Unfortunately, there has been in the past lack of acknowledgement of this practice by the hierarchy of the JCF, certainly, and a sense that such concealment is not subject to specific and recorded approval. There has also been a failure in recording of presence of specific members who participate in operations and where they would be assigned at any particular time. This has resulted in inability to identify members who may have been involved in alleged abuses. Again, see concerns and comments in Report of Tivoli Commission of Enquiry.

Powers of Joint Command to establish cordons and impose curfews: 12(1) – (2)

Clarify how this varies current powers/process to establish cordons and impose curfews.

Note that (2) specifically grants to members of the JDF in Zones the powers of a constable.

Duration of cordon and curfew: 13

Check current duration allowed for cordons and curfews.

Search and seizure: 14

Clarify which of these powers already exist in law and which are new.

Of particular note are instances in which members of the JDF are being granted powers that they do not already have or would not have outside of Zones.

Arrest or detention: 16

This clause needs to be gone through clarifying any variance with existing law. Again, particular note needs to be made of any increase in powers granted to the JDF.

Review role of Justice of the Peace in this clause.

2(a) How is “unless the circumstances are such that the person should know” determined?

Special Zones 3

Persons held in custody: 17 (1) – (2)

Any changes to existing law?

17(2) What time period is meant by “forthwith” in “…and shall cause such person to be brought forthwith before a Justice of the Peace”?

Just noting that the provisions under this Act will affect all persons arrested or detained for any offence in these Zones, not just those persons or offences related to the high crime factors referred to in the Memorandum of Objects and Reasons.

Treatment of persons arrested or detained: 18 (1) – (7)

Review against existing law.

If adhered to in practice, 17(3) would be important. But would it be adhered to in practice?

Use of body-worn cameras: 19 (1) – (2)

This clause deals with the wearing of body-worn cameras in the Zones and (2) requires the following:

Special Zones 4

with 2(a) – (g) setting out some of the specifics to be included in the protocols and procedures.

The head of the JCF’s communications unit recently stated that there are internal protocols which guide the use of body-worn cameras by the JCF. At the time, the head of INDECOM stated that such protocols hadn’t been shared with INDECOM. I don’t know whether they have been shared with INDECOM subsequently. They certainly haven’t been shared with the public.

I would question why the establishment and review of protocols and procedures for use of body-worn cameras in these Zones would be left to the Chief of Defence Staff and the Commissioner of Police. Would protocols governing body-worn cameras within the Zones differ from those for use otherwise/generally? Wouldn’t it be better to have a standardized practice for the entire country? Will INDECOM be involved in the development and/or review of such protocols – general or within Zones –  as set out in Bill? Will the public be entitled to know what these protocols and practices are?

Registration of weapons: 20

Special Zones 5

Why the qualifier? Would they be required to give reasons for such a decision? To whom?

Thinking generally about oversight for actions within the Zones.

Duty to disclose identity on request: 21(1) – (4)

Compare with existing law.

Note offence and punishment in 21(4).

Duty under law for the protection of children: 22

Special Zones 6

Consider any implications of this provision.

22 (a) Implications of this expansion of power to any/all members of JCF and JDF in a Zone. Too broad? Could intention be accomplished by referral to existing Attendance Officers?

Was this included in response to questions regarding under what law police in certain communities have exercised certain authority over children there?

Establishment of Social Intervention Committee: 23(1) – (2)

What resources will be available for the functioning of the Committees? Funds? Support staff? Office space? Etc?

Often the effectiveness of committees is hampered by lack of resources, even fairly basic ones.

Functions of Committee: 24(1) – (4)

Review the functions. Note 24(2) re TOR of Committees.

Regulations: 25

“The Minister may make regulations for the better carrying out ot the provisions and purposes of this Act.” Not “shall make regulations”? In past instances, the failure to pass accompanying regulations has hampered the proper implementation of an Act.

Review of Act by Parliamentary Committee: 26(1) – (2)

26(2) The first review not later than 3 years after declaration of first Zone.

First Schedule – Social Intervention Committee

Constitution of Committee: 1(a) – (u)

“The Committee shall be comprised of at least ten persons selected from among the following – “

Twenty-one people/categories of people are offered, from which at least ten are to be chosen. Of the twenty-one, seventeen are explicitly state/government representatives; two are explicitly community representatives; two – (g) and (u) – could be state/government or non-state/government. This seems to skew to composition of the Social Intervention Committees towards being predominantly state/government in composition.

Procedure and meetings: 5(1) – (7)

5(2) By what mechanism would the community be able to make a call for a meeting of the committee? Would it be dependent on getting the requisite number of committee members to support such a call? Or would there be some other mechanism?

5(5) Would minutes be available to public routinely? Or dependent on ATI requests?

Second Schedule – Amendment of other Enactments

General need to review and be clear on all the changes to existing laws being made here.

Constabulary Force Act

Look at specifics of changes being proposed.

Criminal Justice (Suppression of Criminal Organization) Act

The three New Parts to be inserted into the existing Act need to be reviewed for the implications of the provisions contained in them. Provisions regarding interim control orders and control orders are of particular note.

1A – Declaration of Criminal Organization,

1B – Control of Members of Criminal Organizations and

1C – Registers of Criminal Organization and Controlled Members of Criminal Organizations

Firearms Act

Look at the New Sections – 42A, 42B and 42C – to be inserted in existing Act. Implications?


Some other laws to consider in reviewing this Bill

The Constitution of Jamaica

The Emergency Powers Act

The Constabulary Force Act

The Defence Act

The Education Act

The Child Care and Protection Act

Criminal Justice (Suppression of Criminal Organization) Act

The Firearms Act