Jamaicans for Justice welcomes the Sept. 18th decision, Everton Douglas et al vs The Minister of National Security et al, delivered by Supreme Court judge, Mr. Justice Bertram J. Morrison, as a historic victory for Jamaican human rights.
On July 9, 2020, Attorneys-at-Law from Jamaicans for Justice John Clarke and Sasheeka Richards filed writs of habeas corpus in the Supreme Court. The Court found their detention under SOE to be unlawful, unconstitutional and without justification.
Executive Interference and Breach of Rights
JFJ’s submissions were that the Applicants were being unlawfully detained in an executive detention system which was inconsistent with our constitution. We challenged the Minister’s powers to detain the Applicants who were neither charged with any criminal offence nor convicted by the courts. We were concerned that the Applicants were housed at prisons without a trial or the Court having a role in relation to such an executive sentence.
“It is noteworthy that a member of the security force indicated at the hearing that the detainees could be held for many years based on the material detention orders,” lead counsel, John Clarke said. “We argued the foregoing was not contemplated by our constitution. We are heartened that the Court agreed.”
The Applicants for a Writ of Habeas Corpus below were released on August 17, 2020 to facilitate the general election:
Gavin Noble, detained on May 17, 2019 (held for 458 days)
Courtney Hall, detained on June 22, 2019 (held for 422 days)
Courtney Thompson, detained on July 22, 2019 (held for 392 days)
Nicholas Heath, detained on July 26, 2019 (held for 388 days)
Everton Douglas, detained on January 26, 2020 (held for 204 days)
A Structure Outside of the Law
The Jamaican government’s use of SOEs to ‘suppress crime’ between 2018 and 2020 created an exceptionally sweeping national system of detention that saw security forces arresting and detaining Jamaicans, mostly from poor communities, often without reasonable grounds or credible evidence.
“In some cases, persons were incarcerated for being members of a so-called goat thieving gang,” Clarke said. “When our team pursued the matter, the police noted that they had no witnesses or complainants, but had held these men for more than two weeks in hope of receiving a statement.”
The men were subsequently released when it was discovered that ‘the stolen goats’ were actually still on the farms of the prospective complainants.
From our research in this area, we are aware that thousands of Jamaicans were detained and processed under the SOE and for mostly minor offences. Many of these detainees were compelled to provide fingerprints and other personal data. This data is in the possession of the state without any mandate for the state to destroy them at the end of the SOE.
Hundreds of detainees endured degrading conditions and were denied a proper review of their cases. Jamaicans for Justice handled more than seventy (70) such cases of persons detained from between two years to months and days without charge. More than fifty-five (55) persons were released through the efforts of our Attorneys-at-law.
Since 2018, Jamaicans for Justice had raised a public alarm regarding the use of SOEs in this manner. We made repeated requests to speak with the Attorney General. These went unanswered and we became increasingly alarmed at the government’s civic disengagement and willingness to deploy SOEs as a blunt crime-fighting tool at the disproportionate expense of the rule of law. We were also concerned that the long-term crime-fighting efforts would be stymied by disproportionate reliance on SOE detentions.
A Call to Vigilant Action
We call upon the government of Jamaica to uphold the law and safeguard the rights of all Jamaicans as it pursues important crime-fighting initiatives. We maintain that in a democracy it is possible to address crime without breaching citizens’ fundamental rights.
As the government examines the Court’s ruling and reflects on its own constitutional mandate and ethical responsibility, we urge them to consider the impact of measures on all groups of Jamaicans and craft strategies that do not break the law while trying to enforce law and order.
The detentions under the SOEs severely adversely impacted not only the men detained, but their families. The Applicants in this case lost more than five years collectively. We hope the state will bear this in mind in any future action.
JFJ continues to respond to cases of persons unlawfully detained or abused under the previous States of Emergency. We will speak out against these abuses in the interests of justice. We will resist attempts to erode our fundamental protections as a free and democratic society.