Jamaica News: Debate on the Law Reform (Amendment of Penalties) Act, which seeks to update low outdated monetary fines for a range of offences, began in the House of Representatives on February 26.
Opening debate on the Bill, Minister of Justice, Hon. Delroy Chuck, said the legislation seeks to update old penalties in laws falling under the Ministry and is one of the measures being taken by the Government under the justice reform agenda. “This is long overdue,” he said.
“The criminals laugh at law-abiding citizens in this great nation when they break the law and are given ‘a slap on the wrist’, because the court is constrained in how much they can penalise them,” the Minister added.
For example, he said according to Section 52 of the Criminal Justice (Administration) Act, if any person is convicted of an assault and battery on any officer of the Court while at court, or any Justice of the Peace (JP) or Police Officer while in the execution of his duty, such a person shall be liable to a fine not exceeding $40, or up to one year in prison.
Even with sentencing guidelines, the courts cannot levy a penalty above what the law prescribes. “This is one of the many ridiculous penalties we have on our books,” Mr. Chuck said.
He noted that based on the recommendations of the Justice Sector Reform Taskforce, the proposed amendments will not only update the penalties, but will also help to ensure consistency in the penal provisions across the laws.
Citing another example, the Minister said under the Witnesses’ Expense Act, for the offence of failing to obey a subpoena, summons or process which has been lawfully issued by the court for his attendance as a witness, if he or she has no reasonable excuse, a person can be fined up to $200 or up to one month in prison.
However, under the Commissions of Enquiry Act, the similar offence attracts a maximum fine of up to $1 million. This is also just one of the inconsistencies that currently exist in the laws, the Minister said.
He said the legislation will place the country one step closer to realising Goal number two of Vision 2030 = National Development Plan that the Jamaican society is secure, cohesive and just.
“It is the intention of this Government to establish a Criminal Code through which a supervisory and quantification scheme will be established to create even greater certainty in our penal laws. Until then, we will start where we can, by updating the penalties to more meaningful standards,” he pointed out.
He said the proposed legislation was crafted after the Legal Reform Department undertook a project through which more than 800 laws were reviewed. “The process is tedious and great effort was required to ensure that every single outdated penalty was captured,” Mr. Chuck added.
He said the Bill proposes that under the Corruption Prevention Act, section 33 (1), the penalty will move from $20 or one month in prison to $1 million or one year in prison.
The Minister said he hopes that other ministries will provide their update of penalties in their respective laws by the end of the first quarter of the 2019/20 fiscal year.
According to the Memorandum of Objects and Reasons, a decision has been taken to revise penalties where appropriate, and where not already provided for, provide a mechanism for amendment of monetary penalties relating to several Acts under the portfolio of the Ministry of Justice, by Ministerial Order.
Debate on the Bill will continue.