PM should respect separation of powers principle — lawyer

Prominent attorney Bert Samuels has rapped Prime Minister Andrew Holness for suggesting that he would personally want the death penalty to be applied to anyone found in possession of an illegal firearm.

Holness made the comment while addressing the 78th annual conference of the governing Jamaica Labour Party at the National Indoor Sports Centre in St Andrew on Sunday.

The prime minister stressed that he was using hyperbole as he made the point, but that has not absolved him from criticism. Hyperbole refers to exaggerated statements or claims not meant to be taken literally.

“I find it to be a breach of the principle of the separation of powers for the prime minister to be delving into the realm of sentencing in criminal matters, which is the purview of the judiciary, and to carry such a discussion outside of the Parliament on a platform,” Samuels told Loop News on Monday.

He argued that the death penalty is reserved for the loss of a life by criminal means.

“It is not for a firearm possession, which can [lead to] a conviction with several different circumstances, depending on what the facts are in each case. There are cases that could be described as innocent possession and other cases where there is criminal possession,” Samuels outlined.

The attorney explained further that a woman, who sees a firearm that belongs to her boyfriend on the dresser in her bedroom, is in possession once the gun is within her view. However, the boyfriend, who is a gunman, would be subjected to a different kind of sentence, said Samuels.

“In any event, matters of sentencing are for judges, they’re not for laymen,” he stated.

Meanwhile, Samuels said it was of “grave concern” that more than 1,200 people had been murdered in the country this year.

“We should find new and creative ways to deal with the scourge of this huge murder rate, which may put us at the top of the list at the end of the year for murders per capita,” he said.

According to Holness, “Anyone found with a gun [that is illegal] should start with the death penalty [as their sentence]. That’s how strongly I feel about it.”

With the majority of the more than 1,000 people murdered in Jamaica each year killed by the gun and with a similar number shot and injured, Holness said it was time that the country gets tougher on gun crimes.

He said there should be stiffer penalties for “those who import the weapons, who provide the weapons to the killers, who ‘lock’ the weapons, who use them to intimidate people. There should be the harshest penalties for them”.

The prime minister added: “They should start at the highest level [the death penalty]. They shouldn’t get automatic plea bargaining. Those who perpetrate this should face the most severe consequence. We must have a movement to disarm Jamaica of illegal guns.”

While noting that his administration was moving to amend or introduce key legislation to bolster the country’s crime fight, Holness revealed that he had taken a personal interest in the Firearms Act that is being amended.

“I wish it [the amendments to the Firearms Act] could be that draconian,” he declared. I believe at the heart of the problem is the easy access to the gun. The problem that we have in Jamaica is the mass, unregulated inflow of unregistered light arms and weapons from post-war countries and from our big trading partners to the north.”

Holness said that while he does not believe in the death penalty, he was prepared to make an exception where illegal firearms are concerned.

As the government tries to come to grips with spiralling murders, work is being done on the Enhanced Security Measures Bill, the Bail Act and the Corrections Act, among others.

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