New NIDS Bill by year-end

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THE Government is aiming to introduce the a national identification systems (NIDS) Bill by the end of the calendar year.

Minister of Justice Delroy Chuck made the disclosure at a press briefing at his ministry, yesterday, which followed his sectoral debate contribution in Gordon House on Tuesday.

He told the briefing that drafting of the Bill would be pursued during the summer, with the likelihood of it being tabled in the House of Representatives in September, after Parliament’s summer break.

He said that it would be referred to a new joint select committee (JSC) of both Houses of Parliament in October and, hopefully, be approved by both houses in November.

Chuck admitted that there were several pieces of legislation, affecting other areas of Government, which are already being given priority for the period by the Office of the Chief Parliamentary Counsel (OCPC). However, he indicated that the OCPC will deal with the NIDS draft “as quickly as possible”.

“The NIDS Bill is going to be the priority over the next few months, so much so that this ministry is really on fire to get things done… and to ensure that the nation’s business is completed on time,” he told reporters.

But he explained that while the Government would be removing the compulsory requirements of the old Bill, that did not necessarily mean an acceptance of the Constitutional Court’s interpretation of Section 13 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, under which the Court annulled the entire National Identification and Registration Act (NIRA) 2017 deeming the remaining elements inseparable from the excised portions.

He said that there was still the belief within Government circles that there are aspects of the court’s judgement that require a higher court ruling “to confirm, amend or overturn”.

“That has to do with the interpretation of the Charter of Rights, and how the charter is interpreted in terms of its breadth,” Chuck added.

He said that while the charter says that “no law shall be made save and except as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society”, the question as to how that “broad phrase” should be interpreted still arises.

He said that the question would be whether the interpretation applied by the Constitutional Court judges would apply to all other pieces of legislation.

“Should we leave it to the interpretation of the lower court, or at a later date and time should we go to the Court of Appeal and, maybe, the Privy Council to find out if they agree with the Constitutional Court’s interpretation of what is reasonably justified in a free and democratic society?” Chuck added.

He said that there were other issues included, which require greater elaboration as to whether the constitutional court’s interpretation should be accepted.

However, he pointed out that there would no appeal at this time, and that the primary purpose of the Government is to get the NIDS Bill ready for implementation, so that Jamaica can have a genuine national identification.

“Instructions have been given to the legal team and the draftsmen to look at what was said in the ruling, to make sure that the NIDS people have no issue of being taken back to court, and that we can get consensus across different parties, and certainly the Opposition will play a part when it gets to the joint select committee.

“And so, in relation to the Bill itself, we want to be sure we get one that is acceptable across Jamaica. But, obviously if other cases come up which have to do with whether or not the Charter of Rights was properly interpreted, then those are the cases in which aspects of the NIDS may well be re-examined,” he explained.

He said that the public will be able to make submissions to the JSC, which is likely to meet more than once weekly, if necessary, in order to ensure that the Bill is passed by the end of November.

In a 309-page ruling in April, the Constitutional Court, led by Chief Justice Bryan Sykes, pointed out that Section 6 (1) (e) of the National Identification Registration Act (NIRA), which governed policies, procedures, and protocols of data collection and use under the controversial National Identification System (NIDS), violated Section 13 (3) (j) (ii) of the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees respect for, and the protection of, privacy.

The court also cited that the statute did not provide sufficient safeguards against the misuse and abuse of the data collected.

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