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Covid Reflections: Time for one of Dr Bisasor-McKenzie or Dr Webster-Kerr’s Covid-19 Updates

I’ve seen or heard pieces of information in the media about where we now are in the 3rd wave. For example, last week in an interview on Nationwide News Network, National Epidemiologist Dr Karen Webster-Kerr spoke about the expectation that the peak of this wave would occur in 2 weeks’ time and she gave projections for deaths in the coming weeks. During a discussion on Nationwide on Wednesday, Prof Winston Davidson mentioned that the reproductive number was now at 1.1. (For full disclosure, I was one of the other participants in the discussion.) In today’s Gleaner there is an article that refers to information said to have been obtained from Dr Webster-Kerr and the Ministry of Health and Wellness (MOHW):

“A hair-raising 250 COVID-19 deaths occurred in August, with another 60 fatalities still under investigation, said Dr Karen Webster-Kerr, national epidemiologist. Scores of other deaths reported in August occurred months earlier.

August 26 was the deadliest day for the month, with 20 persons succumbing to the COVID-19.

However, the 296 COVID-19-related deaths for March outstripped August’s.

Data from the Ministry of Health and Wellness obtained by The Gleaner showed that another 20 deaths in March are under investigation.

With the country recording a total of 69,054 COVID-19 cases as at September 2 and a total of 1,568 deaths as a result of the disease, the ministry is reporting that the overall (2020 to 2021) COVID-19 case death rate is 2.3 per cent.

The death rate in August (1.6 per cent) plunged only because infections soared almost fivefold, month-on-month, to more than 15,300.”

At the Office of the Prime Minister’s (OPM) press briefing on Wednesday (1-9-21), Prime Minister Holness included 3 of the slides that are normally included in the MOHW PowerPoint updates and he commented on them, something which he has done before, though moreso in Parliament. Although both the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Dr Jacquiline Bisasor-McKenzie and Dr Webster-Kerr were present at the press briefing, neither spoke from the podium or gave the ususal update.

(Perhaps this was in keeping with the brief nature of the press briefing…only 3 slides, and only two questions allowed in the Q&A.)

The last of these MOHW Covid-19 updates that I can find is the one given at the OPM press briefing on August 19, 2021, by Dr Bisasor-McKenzie.

That is now more than two weeks ago, two weeks in which we have moved towards the peak of the 3rd wave. In that time there have been dramatic increases in the number of cases, the number of hospitalizations, the number of deaths. But we are being told that with the reproductive rate reducing and the positivity rate down from the high of 54%, there may be glimmerings of hope. This is exactly the time at which we need a full update from the CMO or the National Epidemiologist. To place us now in the context of indicators that the MOHW has used for so long.

Why haven’t we had one of these updates, at one of the times when we perhaps need it most, since the start of the pandemic?

We have been getting these periodically. They have been a useful way of tracking changes. Whatever problems some may have with aspects of the data, this is a way of following what the MOHW says the position is, what they are using to base decisions on, what the government is basing decisions on.

There was no MOHW Covid Conversation yesterday; Thursday is the ususal day for them if they are being held. No presentation at the OPM press briefing on Wednesday. No presentation at Parliament’s Joint Select Committee dealing with Covid-related matters on Tuesday; Parliament is on summer break. These are the three places that the public usually gains access to these updates. A presentation with commentary by Dr Bisasor-McKenzie or Dr Webster-Kerr would be best. But if that’s not going to happen, post the PowerPoint online on the MOHW website. In fact, press briefing or no press briefing, Covid Conversation or no Covid Conversation, Joint Select Committee or no Joint Select Committee, post it at regular intervals on the MOHW website.

During a crisis such as this pandemic, information to the public is crucial. With this Delta-variant-fueled 3rd wave, with our public hospitals not offering anything but emergency services, with bed capacity overwhelmed, with dangerous oxygen shortages, we are in a crisis within the crisis. We need more information, not less.


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Covid Reflections: Children and this third wave

The early narrative about SARS-CoV-2 and Covid-19 offered us some comfort at the time; at least it didn’t seem to affect children as much and we were thankful. As the pandemic continued, we saw that though children were infected at lower rates than adults and if infected generally had milder symptoms, it was clear that some children who caught the disease could have severe enough symptoms to be hospitalised and some children died. Others had serious side effects that lasted beyound the acute phase of the disease. But still we took what comfort we could from the fact that these severe outcomes affected children at a significantly lower rate than they did adults.

The Delta variant of Covid-19, which is becoming the dominant strain of the virus in many countries, is changing the narrative. Children are contracting the disease at higher rates and are being affected more seriously. Countries such as the USA are seeing more children being hospitalised and more children dying.

Although Jamaica still has had no genomic sequencing results to confirm the presence of the Delta variant here, we have been told we can assume that it is here. We have been told this by the Minister of Health and Wellness, by the Chief Medical Officer and, most recently, by the Prime Minister. They have pointed to the increases in the various Covid indicators and to the travel between Jamaica and countries experiencing surges due to the Delta variant, primarily the UK and the USA.

Jamaica is in the early stages of a third wave and the indicators are surging.

Information taken from Ministry of Health & Wellness (MOHW) daily Clinical Management Summaries posted online.

The daily number of confirmed cases has been rising sharply. Last week Sunday the number of newly confirmed cases was 281; on Saturday there were 656 new cases. At a press conference last Thursday, August 12, 2021, CMO Dr Bisasor-McKenzie shared a slide of the hospital admissions and pointed out that the average number of admissions (shown by the pink line in the graph below) was now just over 70 per day. She pointed out that this rate was already higher than the rate of admissions at the peak of the surge in March/April this year.

Slide from MOHW press briefing August 12, 2021

Many of the hospitals are already beyond their Covid bed capacity and their ICU beds are full. The pressure on the hospitals is at an extremely high level.

Slide from MOHW press briefing August 12, 2021

One of the hospitals that has exceeded its Covid capacity is the Bustamante Hospital for Children, the only hospital in Jamaica dedicated specifically to children. On Thursday, Director of the South East Regional Health Authority (SERHA) Errol Green said that the hospital is over capacity, which poses a problem, as patients can’t easily be transferred elsewhere. Various measures are being used to reduce numbers, including discharging children who can be sent home and not doing elective surgery, only emergency surgery.

So what exactly is the situation with children so far during this surge?

There have been references by officials to more younger people and children being treated for Covid-19. There have accounts of children and babies being admitted to hospital. And if the Covid beds at Bustamante are full, it signals an increase in the number of cases. But we need some specific information from the MOHW.

  • How many children have been confirmed with Covid-19 in the past 6-8 weeks?
  • Is this an increase in the rate that the data has shown perviously? If so, by how much? (The daily Clinical Management Summaries refer to babies as young as 1 day old among those confirmed with Covid-19, but the figures don’t tell us how many children are among those infected. Could a breakdown by age be done on a regular basis?
The chart on the MOHW jamcovid19 website doesn’t report children as a separate group, as seen in the 10-19 group and it doesn’t allow for observing trends over time.
  • How many children have been admitted to hospital with Covid-19 in the past 6-8 weeks? Is this an increase over the rate of admissions seen previously? How many cases have there been of critically ill children?
  • Have any children died of Covid-19 in the past 6-8 weeks? Are any children’s deaths under investigation for Covid-19?
  • How many Covid beds are there at Bustamante Hospital? How many paediatric ICU beds?
  • How many paediatric Covid beds are there at other facilities across the island? And paediatric ICU beds?
  • Is life sustaining equipment for treating children in adequate supply at Bustamante Hospital? Is it available at other facilities across the isaland?
  • With Bustamante Hospital full, are children still being transferred there for treatment?
  • How is the Covid-19 situation affecting treatment of children with non-Covid conditions?

At the MOHW press conference last Thursday, it was announced that a shipment of Pfizer vaccines is due to arrive in Jamaica this week. Because this is the only vaccine currently cleared by WHO for children, priority is being given to children in its roll out. Children 12 and older with co-morbidities and children 15 and older with parental consent will be allowed to get vaccinated. This is scheduled to start on August 23, 2021. This is an important development. It does not come in time, however, for children to be fully vaccinated before the scheduled start of the school year in September. And it does not cover children under the age of 12.

But with the surge in Covid cases not yet at its peak, it is not likely and not advisible that face-to-face classes start in September as previously planned. And that raises a whole additional round of questions and concerns. For another time.


Disaster Risk Management Order No. 15 – Dated November 1, 2020

On October 28, 2020, Prime Minister Andrew Holness announced some changes to the Disaster Risk Management measures. The measures are detailed in the Gazette of Disaster Risk Management (Enforcement Measures) (No. 15) Order, 2020, a copy of which is posted below.

The gazetted Order has been posted on the Ministry of Health & Wellness website (scroll to the bottom of their page), but at the time of publishing this blog, it is not yet on the websites of the Ministry of Justice or the Office of the Prime Minister.


Prime Minister’s Covid-19 Statement in Parliament: October 6, 2020

In Parliament this afternoon (October 6, 2020), Prime Minister Andrew Holness made a statement about the current situation concerning Covid-19 in Jamaica and announced a number of changes to the measures pertaining to the management of the pandemic. These measures will be found in the Disaster Risk Management Order No.14, which is not yet available. Some of the measures went into effect at 6pm this evening; others go into effect tomorrow.

Below is the text of the Prime Minister’s statement and I have also included a link to the recording of today’s sitting of the House.

Two areas will have additional measures imposed because of a spike in the number of cases of Covid-19 that have been reported. They are Whitfield Town in Kingston and Waterford in St Catherine. The boundaries of the communities are given below:

The Public Broadcasting Corporation of Jamaica (PBCJ) recording of today’s sitting of the House can be found at this link and allows for the checking of the text of the PM’s statement against delivery.


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Jamaica’s Gazetted #COVID19 Orders: March 16 – April 8, 2020

So far I have found only one government website that has posted a copy of any of the gazetted orders issued by the Government of Jamaica in the past month to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic. I believe that this is unacceptable, when these orders are the legal documents setting out the many measures that have been implemented to deal with the serious public health threat posed by this new virus. Although details of the measures have been publicised in different ways by the government, the gazetted orders ought to be clearly posted online as soon as they have been Gazetted. I do not understand why this is not being done, despite the need having been pointed out to members of the Government for weeks.

In Parliament after 7 o’clock tonight (April 15, 2020), Prime Minister Holness stated that the order he broadcast yesterday,  implementing a lockdown of the parish of St Catherine, has not yet been gazetted. He says that he is presenting the order in Parliament to allow for discussion and possible amendment before gazetting. (Once I obtain a gazetted copy of the order, I will share it.)Holness in Parliament 15-4-2020

In the meantime, I am posting copies of all but one of the Gazetted orders made between March 16, 2020 and April 8, 2020 here on my blog and I thank the Twitter follower who shared them with me. (One caution. I think that these are all of the orders, but I am not absolutely sure, as there is nowhere on any government website that a list or copies of the orders has been posted. Not a good situation for the public.)

The gazetted orders are posted below in chronological order.

March 16, 2020

The Disaster Risk Management (Enforcement Measures) Order, 2020 March 16 2020 front page

The Disaster Risk Management (Enforcement Measures) Order – March 16, 2020

March 24, 2020

Covid- 19 gazetted order March 24 blog pic

Disaster Risk Management Act (Enforcement Measures) (no. 2) Order, 2020 March 24 2020

March 25, 2020

Gazetted Covid-19 order March 25 blog pic

The Disaster Risk Management (Enforcement Measures) (No. 2) (Amendment) Order, 2020 – March 25 2020

March 31, 2020

Covid gazetted order March 31 blog pic

The Disaster Risk Management (Enforcement Measures) (No. 2) (Amendment) (No. 2) Order 2020 – March 31 2020

April 1, 2020

Gazetted covid order April 1 blog pic

The Disaster Risk Management (Enforcement Measures) (No. 2) (Amendment )(No. 3) Order 2020 – April 1, 2020

April 8, 2020

Gazetted Order Covid 19 April 8 2020 front page

Disaster Risk Management (Enforcement Measures) (No. 3) Order 2020

The April 8, 2020 order is the only one of the gazetted orders that I have found on a government website. It is on the Ministry of Health and Wellness’ Covid-19 page on the Ministry’s website.

 

The Trade (Sale of Goods During Period of Declaration of Disaster Area) Order, 2020 – March 31, 2020

Trade Act order March 31 2020 covid-19 blog pic

The Trade (Sale of Goods During Period of Declaration of Disaster Area) Order, 2020

This order came into effect on March 31, 2020, but I do not have a gazetted copy of it. This copy is posted on Parliament’s website, along with other non-gazetted copies of some of the other orders.Parliament Resolutions & orders 15-4-2020 blog pic

Related Documents

Disaster Risk management Act 2015 blog pic

The Disaster Risk Management Act, 2015

Horace Levy’s Letter to the Editor, Jamaica Observer, April 15, 2020 – Beware rule by edict! 

 


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Information Sharing Events: #COVID19 #Jamaica

Yesterday (March 10, 2020) Jamaica announced that it had its first confirmed case of the coronavirus COVID-19, a young Jamaican woman who had arrived in the island from the UK…

“…on March 4, presented to the public health system on March 9 and has been in isolation since then.

Based on the patient’s travel history and symptoms, health professionals suspected COVID-19. A clinical sample was collected and sent to the
National Influenza Centre, where laboratory tests confirmed the diagnosis
today at approximately 11:00 am.”

Minister Tufton – Press Statement re Corona Virus March 10 2020

Today (March 11, 2020) the World Health Organization classified the COVID-19 outbreak as a pandemic.

“In the past two weeks, the number of cases of COVID-19 outside China has increased 13-fold, and the number of affected countries has tripled.

There are now more than 118,000 cases in 114 countries, and 4,291 people have lost their lives.

Thousands more are fighting for their lives in hospitals.

In the days and weeks ahead, we expect to see the number of cases, the number of deaths, and the number of affected countries climb even higher.

WHO has been assessing this outbreak around the clock and we are deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity, and by the alarming levels of inaction.

We have therefore made the assessment that COVID-19 can be characterized as a pandemic.

Pandemic is not a word to use lightly or carelessly. It is a word that, if misused, can cause unreasonable fear, or unjustified acceptance that the fight is over, leading to unnecessary suffering and death.

Describing the situation as a pandemic does not change WHO’s assessment of the threat posed by this virus. It doesn’t change what WHO is doing, and it doesn’t change what countries should do.

We have never before seen a pandemic sparked by a coronavirus. This is the first pandemic caused by a coronavirus.

And we have never before seen a pandemic that can be controlled, at the same time.

WHO has been in full response mode since we were notified of the first cases.

And we have called every day for countries to take urgent and aggressive action.

We have rung the alarm bell loud and clear.”

WHO Director-General’s opening remarks at the media briefing on COVID-19 – 11 March 2020

Online link here

Within the last week there have been a number of events aimed at sharing information about the COVID-19 disease generally and about the disease in the context of Jamaica. Most of these events took place before the first case was identified in Jamaica and the situation is developing rapidly around the world and here as well. But I wanted to pull together in one place some of the information events here and that is the simple purpose of this blog post.

March 10, 2020 – Ministry of Health & Wellness Press Briefing on 1st Case of Coronavirus confirmed

MOHW Covid-19 press briefing 10-3-2020

Unfortunately the Public Broadcasting Corporation of Jamaica recording doesn’t start right at the beginning of the press briefing, but the full text of Minister Chris Tufton’s statement can be seen in the first document in this blog post. And there is a full recording on Prime Minister Holness’ Facebook page.

March 8, 2020 – Minister of Health’s National Statement: COVID-19 Comprehensive Response Plan

Minister Tufton COVID-19 National Statement 8-3-2020This National Statement was broadcast on Sunday night on most of the main radio and television stations. I cannot find the text of it on the Ministry of Health website, however. Perhaps they will post it at some point.

What I also haven’t yet seen is a published copy of the Comprehensive Response Plan document and I don’t yet know when or if the government intends to make it public. I think it should be made public.

March 5, 2020 – University of the West Indies (Mona) Faculty of Medical Sciences, COVID-19 Pandemic Preparedness Conference

UWI Faculty of Medicine COVID-19 conference 5-3-2020

Dr Tomlin Paul, Dean of the Faculty of Medical Sciences, chaired this conference at which seven presentations were made on a variety of aspects of the situation. The presenters were:  Professor Celia Christie, Dr Carl Bruce, Dr Sandra Jackson, Dr Karen Webster-Kerr, Dr Christine Clarke, Professor Wendel Abel, Professor J. Peter Figueroa and their presentations were followed by a Q & A session. It was a very informative event and was streamed live, which extended the reach greatly.

March 5, 2020 – Meeting of the National Disaster Risk Management Council

National Disaster Risk Management Council 5-3-2020

The Council is headed by the Prime Minister and at the meeting he and a number of other Ministers and agency heads made presentations focused on COVID-19.

The situation continues to evolve and the need for timely official information is ongoing.


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The JCF & Accountability: A Policeman Speaks Out & 3 Opportunities For Change

NNN Hidden Agenda on SoundCloud March 2018Listen to Nationwide News Network’s special report “Hidden Culture”. It is narrated by Nationwide’s Marjorie Gordon and centres on an interview with a serving member of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF). It is a chilling account of the ways in which extrajudicial killings are carried out and covered up by members of the police force, with the involvement of gazetted ranks. The policeman’s voice has been distorted to protect his identity. It was first broadcast on March 21, 2018, was rebroadcast a number of times that week and is now posted on SoundCloud.

Many of the things that he spoke about are things that have been reported on before, things that I have heard of over many years. The difference here is that a serving policeman is giving a personal account in an interview being broadcast on radio.

“You’re a constable going to work and you realise that your name is set to go on an operation to be conducted 3 o’clock in the morning. So, I go on the operation. When I go on the operation with several other officers, we are briefed by the officer in charge of that operation, who is sometimes a Deputy Superintendent, sometimes an Insepector, sometimes even a Superintendent himself. And what we are told to do, the instructions that we are given on that operation, kill!…We’re going fah a particular person and wi not going to lock him up. There were times when members would ask the question, “So Supa, when we hold So-and-So, what di position? Jail or morgue?” And we are told, “Mi nuh inna nuh jail business.”…As a young constable on an operation like that, what am I to do? What am I to do? Can I stand in the crowd of twenty, thirty police officers and say I’m not going? I can’t do that. So I go on the operation, as a part of this operation, and when I see my colleagues fire shots in an innocent man….I’ve been on operations where I myself have fired. It does something to you. It did something to me and it has…it is doing something to others out there. I have a lot of colleagues who are lost in the culture. I realise…I have realised and I have come to the conclusion, most of us, we have lost ourselves because of how we are taught in the streets when we leave training school.” (Transcribed from Nationwide News Network’s ‘Hidden Culture’)

It has long been known that the problem is not simply one of individual rogue police, but that there is a culture within Jamaica’s police force that supports the use of extrajudicial killings as a crime fighting method. And there are those outside the JCF, across the society, who believe this also and would want us as a people to turn a blind eye and allow the police to do weh dem haffi do.

If we want to change this culture, to rid the JCF of this approach, to have a police service that is unequivocally committed to lawful, professional, accountable and rights-centred policing, then we have to seize opportunities for change. At the moment, three such opportunities present themselves.

  • A New Commissioner of Police

Major General Antony Anderson - JISA new Commissioner of Police was sworn in on Monday, March 19, 2018 – Major General Antony Anderson. He is a former head of the Army and is very familiar with the national security situation in Jamaica. One person alone cannot change the culture within and reform the JCF. A Commissioner can, however, provide the type of leadership that may facilitate such change. Whether Commissioner Anderson will (or will be able to) achieve the necessary change remains to be seen, but his appointment opens up an opportunity.

(An associated issue that does need to be considered is how much reliance on the military for/in policing is a good thing. For another blog post perhaps.)

On March 22, 2018, the day after the first broadcast of Nationwide’s special report, the JCF issued a statement in response, which said that

“The purported actions, which are being recounted by an alleged lawman, are categorically condemned by the High Command as they do not align with the principles and standards of a modern Police Force.

The JCF has implemented a series of measures to reinforce acceptable standards of behaviour by its members, particularly with respect to use of force, human rights and engagement with the public.”

It pointed to the JCF’s Early Intervention System, described as “a proactive approach to identifying members who may display tendencies of abnormal behaviour and thereby allowing for timely intervention.” It also mentioned the oversight roles of the  Independent Commission of Investigation (INDECOM), the Inspectorate of Constabulary  (IOC) and the Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency (MOCA). It promised  “to further seek to create a mechanism that will allow persons who have information in these matters to offer same in confidence and without fear.”

Perhaps I have heard too many such statements over the years to find this reassuring. What actions will follow?

  • Strengthen Rather Than Weaken INDECOM

INDECOM logo 2The two Court of Appeal judgments which were handed down on Friday, March 16, 2018, raise once again the need for the Parliament to revisit the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) Act. A Joint Select Committee (JSC) of Parliament held meetings from 2013 – 2015 and carried out the first review of the INDECOM Act, as required by the Act itself. The Committee produced a report with its recommendations, which was tabled in Parliament in November 2015. (Click here for a copy of the Joint Select Committee Report on INDECOM Act.) No action has been taken in Parliament regarding this report or its recommendations. (See my blog post in February –  Parliamentarians, A Joint Select Committee & INDECOM.)

On March 21, 2018, human rights NGO Jamaicans for Justice issued a press release calling for Parliament to make amendments to the INDECOM Act:JFJ press release 21-3-18JFJ press release 21-3-18 bJFJ press release 21-3-18 cJFJ press release 21-3-18 dJFJ press release 21-3-18 e

Both Prime Minister Andrew Holness and Justice Minister Delroy Chuck have said that a Parliamentary Committee is to be established to review the INDECOM Act…again. At this point there is no clear indication of the timeline for the establishment of the Committee, how long it is likely to meet or when it will produce and table its report. It also isn’t clear whether it will be asked to review the Act in its entirety or only specific aspects of the Act, those affected by the Court of Appeal judgments, for example. It isn’t clear what weight, if any, will be given to the review done by the 2013 – 2015 JSC or if the public will have the opportunity to make submissions to the new Committee. And after the Committee tables its report, what action will the Parliament take in regard to its recommendations? What if there is a change of government after the report is tabled? Will that delay Parliament taking any action on the Committee’s recommendations, as seems to have been the case with the 2013 – 2015 Committee’s recommendations?

The news now is that INDECOM is seeking leave to appeal to the Privy Council for clarification on important issues in the case, including constitutional issues. It is also reported that Minister Chuck thinks that INDECOM shouldn’t seek to appeal, but should rather wait to see what Parliament decides to do.

So we continue to wait…to see what Parliament will do and when and whether it will use this opportunity to strengthen or weaken the important role INDECOM plays regarding accountability for the police force.

  • The Police Service Act to Replace the Constabulary Force Act

The Jamaican public first learned of the Government’s plans to replace the Constabulary Force Act with a Police Service Act via a March 2017 Government of Jamaica Letter of Intent to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

JA letter of intent to IMF March 2017“Implement a full legislative review that leads to (i) completion of a draft new Police Service Act to replace the Jamaica Constabulary Force
Act, that supports the modernization and transformation of the
Jamaica Constabulary Force into a modern intelligence-led police
service that ensures Citizen Security, with stronger systems of
administration, management and internal discipline….” (p 21)

The October 2017 Letter of Intent indicated that the measure was “[o]n track for completion by target date”, the target bate being October 2017 (IMF – Jamaica Second Review Under the Stand-By Arrangement Etc October 2017 p 43).

In the Throne Speech delivered by the Governor General in Parliament on February 15, 2018, this new Police Service Act is included as one of the legislative actions to be taken during the 2018 – 2019 legislative year.

Throne speech 2018 - Police Service Act

Throne Speech 2018, p 7

This proposed new legislation is obviously an important opportunity for reform of the police force. True reform – the modernisation and transformation being referred to – cannot be achieved by tinkering around the edges of the current legislation or by focusing primarily on increasing the powers of the police. It cannot be accomplished without full and genuine consultation with the people the police service is intended to serve. The legislation cannot be rushed through Parliament without allowing adequate time and opportunity for those who wish to make submissions about the draft legislation to do so. Indeed, it would be best if there were also consultation on the actual draft legislation before it was tabled in Parliament. I know that new legislation is only one part of what needs to be done, but we cannot afford to miss this opportunity for change.

How these three opportunities are handled will have an impact on many aspects of the workings of the police force and whether we move nearer to or further from achieving a professional and accountable police service. One marker in that process – nearer to or further from – will be the impact on that hidden culture of extrajudicial killings.

Relevant documents – Court of Appeal Judgments

Court of Appeal judgment - FederationThe Police Federation, Merrick Watson (Chairman of the Police Officers Association), The Special Constabulary Force Association and Delroy Davis (President of the United District Constables Association) v The Commissioner of the Independent Commission of Investigations and the Attorney General of Jamaica [2018] JMCA Civ. 10

Court of Appeal judgment - DiahAlbert Diah v Regina [2018] JMCA Crim 14

 

 

(I am a member and a spokesperson for Jamaicans for Justice. My blog posts are all done in my personal capacity, however.)


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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,

INDEPENDENT COMMISSION OF INVESTIGATIONS

Terrence F Williams

Commissioner

 

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 Houses 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.

 

 

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