14 days not enough for SOE, says Chuck

MONTEGO BAY, St James — Pointing to the success of a months-long state of public emergency (SOE) in Honduras during which thousands of people have been jailed, Justice Minister Delroy Chuck says he regrets being part of an earlier decision to limit the duration of each SOE in Jamaica to 14 days.

“The fact that 14 days is the time is a bit unfortunate. I was a part of the constitutional commission when we recommended 14 days. We should have recommended 30 days or 42 days,” he told reporters in Montego Bay on Thursday.

“Fourteen days is not enough to really ensure that the violence producers are kept off the street for some time,” the minister argued.

He was fielding questions after a ceremony to commission a new batch of justices of the peace for St James.

During the ceremony, he cited Honduras’ approach to the use of SOEs.

“In Honduras now, the Government has had a state of emergency for eight months and will continue it for a longer time. They have literally locked up tens of thousands,” the justice minister told his audience.

He said that SOEs in Jamaica, while too short in duration, have been effective and should be relied upon even more.

“When you compare the figures for 2019, 2020, 2021 and now, wherever an SOE has been imposed, lives have been saved. To the extent that the SOEs are saving lives, it is something that all Jamaicans should support,” he urged.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Andrew Holness called the third SOE within the last two months, having declared one on November 15 and another on December 6. The People’s National Party (PNP) has consistently argued that SOEs are ineffective as a crime-fighting tool, are unconstitutional and have refused to vote with the Government to extend them beyond the initial 14 day-duration.

On Thursday, hours before Chuck’s comments, PNP President Mark Golding gave notice that the Opposition would be going to court for a ruling on the latest round of SOEs.

“The PNP has sought and now received legal advice on the two most recent SOEs that were declared on the 6th and the 28th of December, respectively. There is nothing to suggest that these two SOEs were declared as a result of changed circumstances after the SOE in November failed to get the required 2/3 support of the Senate on the 25th of November,” he said in a press release.

“These two recent SOEs are clearly an attempt to circumvent the limits that the constitution intended to place on the prime minister’s powers. Based on advice received, I believe that it is likely that the court would declare this recent practice to be unconstitutional. We will therefore be seeking the court’s guidance on this. It is a matter of fundamental constitutional importance and needs to be resolved once and for all. This prime minister needs to be taught to live within the rule of law,” Golding said.

Chuck, in response, expressed confidence that the Government would prevail in any legal challenge.

“To the extent that the Opposition wants to take it court, that’s okay. I have no doubt that the powers of the constitution give the executive the opportunity, in appropriate cases, to call a state of emergency,” he said.

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