Chuck says protection assured for witnesses under NIDS Bill

MINISTER of Justice Delroy Chuck has assured that the Office of the Public Defender has the necessary identity protection for people operating under the Justice Protection Programme (JPP), which will be retained under the National Identification and Registration (NIDS) Bill.

“I think that it is something you don’t necessarily want to reveal too much of, and the reason for that is the need for secrecy of persons under the JPP, where they may even change facial features in order to protect their identity,” he told Public Defender Arlene Harrison Henry.

The minister was responding to a request from the public defender concerning the retention of the necessary identity protection of witnesses who are registered under the Justice Protection Act (JPA), during last Wednesday’s meeting of the joint select committee (JSC) reviewing the draft of the NIDS Bill at Gordon House.

According to Harrison Henry, in the current draft of the NIDS Bill, Section 13 does not offer adequate protection for the individuals whose identities are protected by the JPA. She said that there is concern that identity information could be released on an agreement between the authorities and the Administrative Centre, which falls under the Justice Protection Act.

“We want to suggest that the legislation should provide more details as to how these persons will be treated under the new regime, and the specific submissions to be put in place for the continued protection of their identities,” she told the joint select committee (JSC) reviewing the latest draft of the Bill at Gordon House.

The Bill says that a reliable database of all Jamaican citizens will be created, and the programme will involve the issuance of a unique lifelong national identification number (NIN) to every person living in Jamaica. However, it will is not be mandatory.

She said the protection of identities is the basis of the Justice Protection Programme (JPP).

“It is the concealment of identity, in many instances the complete change of identification, the change of location, the change of country in which they live,” she noted.

Chuck said that it was not something that could be spelt out too much in the Bill, but preferably in the regulations for the Act.

The public defender said that she did not expect the details to be spelt out “as ABCD”, but her office was concerned that it could be shared and the Bill did not specifically address that issue.

She said further that her office has had several complaints from persons operating under the programme, and would like to see their identities remain virtually sealed.

“Not only sealed, but when it is changed it doesn’t become known,” the minister responded.

Harrison Henry said that she was not insisting that everything be included in the new NIDS Act, but there needed to be more guaranteed protection for persons who “give up their freedom”.

“What you are saying is absolutely correct. So the necessary protective device will have to be put in, either in the regulations or with some clear understanding,” Chuck agreed.

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