Jamaica's Prime Minister Says Notion of Indefinite Detentions Under SOE "Absolutely Not True"

KINGSTON, Jamaica – Prime Minister Andrew Holness says there is no truth to the notion that persons can be detained indefinitely under the State of Public Emergency (SOE).

HOLNpmsPrime Minister Andrew Holness“Nothing could be further from the truth. Under the emergency powers regulations now in place, the Emergency Powers Review Tribunal … must review the cases brought before them in order for any person to be detained for more than seven days,” he pointed out.

“So, this notion that… the SOEs allow the security forces to scrape up or net fish and detain persons arbitrarily, without charge indefinitely, is absolutely not true.”

On Tuesday, Holness declared announced limited SOEs in several parishes for an initial 14 days.

He said the Emergency Powers Regulations that govern the measures are different from those with which the court recently took issue.

He was referring to the case of taxi operator Roshaine Clarke who was awarded J$18 a million (1 Jamaican dollar=US 0.008 cents) in damages by the High Court in June this year for being unlawfully detained for seven months under the SOE that was declared in the western parish of St James in January 2018.

Holness said the Government has taken “a lot of care and diligence” to go through the various issues raised by the court and has made the relevant changes.

“In the Roshaine Clarke case, the judgement of the Constitutional Court made it clear that the purpose for which the SOE had been imposed was a legitimate purpose, that is, the SOEs can be used for the purpose for which the Government is using them.

“However, the court took issue with the emergency powers regulations under which Clarke had been detained; those regulations were made in 2018. The emergency powers regulations that will be in effect for this new declaration of the SOEs are different,” the Prime Minister explained.

He added that the SOEs will not cripple business or commerce.

“In this iteration of the SOEs, bearing in mind that we are approaching the Christmas season, the powers that will be deployed in the SOEs will be mindful of commerce, entertainment and of persons’ movement,” Holness noted.

Meanwhile, the Prime Minister said that an upgrading of the Constitution is needed so that the security measure can be easily and effectively utilised to deal with modern threats.

“Emergency powers have always been an executive tool because it is the executive that always has to respond and react. We need to, I think, upgrade and recraft how the emergency powers are used,” he said.