Even if SOE ends today, attorney anxiously awaiting detention judgement

Even if SOE ends today, attorney anxiously awaiting detention judgement

BY ANTHONY LEWIS
Observer writer
editorial@jamaicaobserver.com

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

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MONTEGO BAY, St James — President of the Cornwall Bar Association Lambert Johnson has reacted with relief over the possible ending of the states of public emergency (SOE) across the island today.

“There are many persons who are of the view that the way in which the SOE has been executed has been oppressive to a certain segment of the society. So, I am sure that when it ends there will be persons who will be happy that it ended. And so, we are looking forward to the end,” Johnson said during an interview with the Jamaica Observer yesterday.

Attorney General Marlene Malahoo Forte and Jamaica Labour Party General Secretary Dr Horace Chang had told the media during the party’s Central Executive Committee meeting at the Montego Bay Convention Centre on Sunday, that the Parliament, which is currently on break for the month of August, will be reconvening today to possibly bring the SOE to an end, so as to give Prime Minister Andrew Holness the freedom to call the general election.

The Government, in the past, had given a clear commitment that the polls would not be held under an SOE.

On June 21, the House of Representatives voted to extend the SOEs in effect in sections of the island to September 3.

“There will be no elections under the SOEs, so the elections will not be announced [while they are in effect]. The Parliament will convene and make a decision on that,” stated Dr Chang, in a response to queries from the press on Sunday.

The Bar association president said while he does not wish to comment on the constitutionality of the SOE, he eagerly awaits the judgement of the Supreme Court on August 25.

Johnson was making reference to a case in the Supreme Court, brought against the State by five men — some of whom have been in custody for over a year — who are challenging the legality of their detention.

The five detainees are Nicholas Heat, Courtney Hall, Gavin Nobel, Courtney Thompson, and Everton Douglas.

Supreme Court judge Justice Bertram Morrison on August 25 is expected to rule on whether Jamaica’s laws support the detention of individuals under the SOE for prolonged periods without charge.

“I anxiously await the judgement on the 25th of August, and I hope that if the state of emergency ends before, we will still get a fulsome written judgement, which will provide guidance for police officers, parish judges and attorneys in the future, so we know what is proper and what is improper. So, even if the state of emergency ends, we look to fulsome judgement, because it will be sure to provide lots of guidance,” Johnson argued.

He pointed to one of the challenges with which members of his association have been faced under the SOE.

“One of the principal challenges that we face is that persons would actually go to court on matters for which they are charged. They would be granted bail, both in the parish court and in the high court, and the police, in their wisdom, would determine that these persons should not see the light of day. The moment that they sign their bail bonds, they will be taken into custody, and that, to me, is one of the most egregious uses of the powers under the state of emergency,” argued the Bar association president.

“You cannot use the state of emergency to undermine the sanctity of the judiciary, and that was one of my greatest concerns about the state of emergency. So, when it ends, I know that too will end,” he said.

Meanwhile, Johnson said that based on the “current developments”, the general election will be called by the end of the week.

“If it [SOE] ends tomorrow [today], my prediction is, by the end of the week, he will call it, because as they say, ‘It is near, near,’ ” quipped the Bar association president, who was making reference to Holness who had told his party’s central executive meeting on Sunday that the election will be called “soon, soon”.

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