THE Opposition People’s National Party (PNP) said last night that it is deeply concerned that Government advised the governor general to declare a state of emergency (SOE) in seven police divisions even though the country is still waiting to hear the outcome of the Administration’s appeal against an earlier SOE declaration brought by citizen Everton Douglas.
“The Opposition believes that the Government has resorted to this desperate measure in order to cover up their failure to bring down the level of crime, and that the prime minister is trying to spread the blame for his dismal failure to make Jamaica safe and secure,” the Opposition said in a press release.
The Opposition said it will be meeting as soon as possible with the party’s executive committee to prepare a response for the parliamentary debate on a resolution to extend the SOEs, adding that the measures can only continue for 14 days without an extension supported by both Houses of Parliament.
“The Opposition strongly believes that there are already adequate provisions in ordinary legislation to deal with Jamaica’s problems with crime. There are existing measures that allow the army to be mobilised to support the police in the high-violence areas, and to use tools such as curfews and cordon-and-search operations.
“A state of emergency allows people to be detained on a long-term basis without charge. This is not allowed in ordinary policing, and it is potentially very dangerous to allow detention without charge to become part of standard policing. It would be too easy for this measure to be abused to the point where it started to undermine civil liberties and democracy in Jamaica,” the Opposition said.
It added that, in its ruling on the last SOE declaration, the Supreme Court clearly stated that the situation which led to the detention of the objector did not qualify as an emergency or satisfy the requirements of sections 20 (2) and 20 (5) of the constitution. The court’s ruling pointed out that, according to the constitution, a public emergency must have the following characteristics:
• It must be actual or imminent;
• It must potentially involve the whole nation;
• It must threaten the organised life of the community;
• It must be exceptional, which means that the normal measures or restrictions allowed for the maintenance of public safety, health, and order are plainly inadequate.
“The court made it clear that, in its view, the Government had failed to satisfy the requirements for calling a public emergency. The court therefore also concluded that the claimant’s constitutional rights, and the constitution itself, had been breached by the current detention and executive detention system.”
According to the Opposition, “This case demonstrated [that] the constitution sets a high bar for calling a state of emergency. A state of emergency is an extreme measure, and it should never be used lightly. It should only be used when all the other provisions for the maintenance of law and order are clearly inadequate to the task.”