THE Government is reviewing changes to a suite of legislative provisions, including the Emergency Powers Act, to enable the State to effect emergency measures during the COVID-19 crisis and beyond.
Attorney General Marlene Malahoo Forte made the announcement last week at a digital press briefing on the Government’s management of the deadly virus outbreak.
Over the past several weeks, the Andrew Holness Cabinet has come under some scrutiny from the parliamentary Opposition for using the Disaster Risk Management Act to effect restrictions. Among the views are that the restriction measures should only be effected under a state of emergency.
“We are looking at a comprehensive review of the suite of legislation that enables us to put in place measures in times of disaster and hazards. On the instruction of the prime minister, the minister of justice has been charged with the responsibility of assisting the Ministry of Health to do a review in particular of the Quarantine Act, which is quite dated and requires up-to-date regulations and other provisions for quarantining of persons,” she explained.
That piece of legislation came into force in 1951 and was last ammended in 1991.
The Public Health Act, which was last amended in 1996, is also being overhauled to create a more up-to-date framework for public health and the management of diseases among other provisions, the attorney general said.
Also, the Immigration Restriction (Commonwealth Citizens) Act (1988), which deals with the re-entry of commonwealth citizens and Jamaicans into the island, as well as the Aliens Act (1988) which both fall under the national security ministry, are being examined.
Further, consequential amendments are to be made to the Emergency Powers Act in relation to a period of disaster.
“An amendment was made to the Constitution, which should have been carried through to the Emergency Powers Act, separating a period of public emergency from a period of public disaster. That unfortunately was not done and we are in the process of doing so,” she explained.
As set out in the provisions which repealed chapter three of the Constitution in 2012, a “period of public disaster” means any period during which the governor general makes a proclamation declaring a period of public disaster exists; while a “period of public emergency” means any period during which the head of state makes a proclamation declaring a state of public emergency; or if a resolution is made by both Houses of Parliament supported by a two-thirds majority vote “declaring that democratic institutions in Jamaica are threatened by subversion”.
The provisions further outline that a proclamation cannot be effective unless the governor general is satisfied that “a period of public disaster has arisen as a result of the occurrence of any earthquake, hurricane, flood, fire, outbreak of pestilence, outbreak of infectious disease or other calamity”.
Additionally, Malahoo Forte said areas for improvement have been identified in the Disaster Risk Management Act, which is now being used for an all-of-government response to the COVID-19 crisis.
“Arising out of the management of COVID, you will see a new and up-to-date suite of legislation in place to help us as we go into the hurricane season, and beyond,” she stated.
Meanwhile, the new and amended orders announced by Prime Minister Holness last Wednesday are to be promulgated in a new single order under the Act bringing together all the updated COVID-19 restriction measures.
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