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Jamaica DRMA case spike: police vigilance or amendment?

THE Kingston and St Andrew (KSA)Parish Court is reporting that in 2021 it heard 3,802 cases relating to breaches of the curfew order and the Disaster Risk Management Act (DRMA), a significant increase from 2020’s 106 cases.

However, some attorneys are convinced this is due to increased vigilance from the police and the March 2021 amendment to the DRMA.

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Queen’s Counsel Peter Champagnie told the Jamaica Observer that more than one factor contributed to these increased numbers.

“I think what happened along the way is that the police got more vigilant as the numbers increased, in terms of the positivity rate, and therefore you had the increase. Because you will recall, I think it was very recent, a positivity of almost 50 per cent.”

Champagnie added that the amendments to the DRMA, which allowed for greater levels of prosecution instead of first-time offence warnings to those who breached the COVID-19 protocols, has affected the numbers in court. These protocols include adhering to the stipulated curfews, wearing a mask and remaining six-feet apart from other people.

The Bill to amend the DRMA was passed on March 30, 2021, and included three amendments, introducing enforceable penalties against people who commit breaches under the Act. The fines range from $3,000 to $500,000.

When asked if the DRMA was an effective means to control the pandemic, Champagnie stated, “In hindsight, no.”

“I say that because pretty soon after the pandemic started you had other countries such as England and I think some countries in Asia, they specifically moved quickly to have pandemic legislation specifically dealing with a pandemic of this nature. And I think what happened in our case is that we were trying to utilise the DRMA and stretch it to its limits to suit the situation, where really and truly our Parliament should have been very active towards a Pandemic Act, as obtained in other countries,” Champagnie continued, noting that the DRMA was not originally designed to treat pandemics, but natural disasters.

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“That is why along the way the DRMA had to be reviewed and had to be amended to take into account factors unique to the pandemic. So I don’t think that it was sufficiently able to deal with the situation, but to be fair I don’t know that anyone would have foreseen this kind of situation to be forward thinking.”

He explained that in creating an Act specified to deal with pandemics, the Government wouldn’t be tasked with amending the current legislation, and there would not be arguments highlighting that the DRMA was not designed for this situation.

However, Champagnie said he believes that with the current low positivity rate for COVID-19 infections, in short order the country will no longer rely on the DRMA for the purpose for which it is being used currently.

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Court records revealed that for 2020, the month of September saw the most cases, at 32. For 2021, the court heard 625 cases in the month of June alone, and so far this year, up to February 2, 2022, the court has heard a total of 317 cases relating to breaches of the DRMA and curfew orders.

3,802 DRMA cases heard in KSA Parish Court in 2021  Jamaica Observer

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